There’s a phrase “tough room”. It might well have been invented for a Monday night metal gig in Belfast.
Firstly, turnout was surprisingly low for this – what should really have been a packed house.
Add to that the usual post-work knackeredness, the caution of older heads towards midweek booze, and it was all what you could call quite polite.
So Paradise Lost had a bit of a battle on their hands, which famously dour singer Nick Holmes didn’t even try to hide.
First however to Lucifer. It’s Gaz Jennings’ new project since the demise of Cathedral.
His doom credentials might be beyond dispute, but sadly Lucifer are 100% style over substance.
Blues doom with occult-hippy trappings and old style screen printed visuals is now a very over done thing, and nothing Lucifer do adds anything to the party.
Worst of all, I’m not sure that singer Johanna was singing real words. Their set sounded like a lot of ‘wooooaaaah’ and ‘ooooohs’ from her, and I couldn’t once make out a lyric.
And sorry, but no amount of billowing around in a kids halloween witch suit makes it any more convicing at all. They are just an incredibly dull band blessed with the right connections to get a bit of hype. Nothing more.
And so to Paradise Lost, returning to Belfast for only the third time in sixteen years.
It’s funny how the wheel of fortune spins.
In 1999 I stood in the same venue as tonight, watching an almost insufferably poor show by them on the ‘Host’ tour. It was worse because it was even minus Gregor Mackintosh who had injured his arm – their roadie filled in. I all but wanted my money back.
Fastforward a few years , and they than made up for it with their barnstorming performance at Mandela Hall.
Tonight, with a roundly applauded new album under their belt and the promise of old classics into the bargin, they should have brought the house down.
And indeed on balance it was great, albeit with a few niggles.
The biggest was the appalling sound: drum heavy, guitar light, vocals intermittent and with the fundamental Gregor Mackintosh lead – the very essence of Paradise Lost – absolutely nowhere to be found unless you were straight in front of his amp.
It was a problem suffered also in Dublin the night before.
I honestly had to screw my eyes closed and concentrate with every fibre to pick it out of the dreadul mix.
It helps when you know them all, that’s all I’ll say.
The new material stands up incredibly well: ‘Terminal’ and ‘No Hope In Sight’ are both easy pleasers, but it’s the gargantuan olde doom of ‘Beneath Broken Earth’ that’s a late-set gem.
‘Victims Of The Past’, with that brilliant shuffle drum beat is another clear winner once they hit their stride.
Strangely there was no ‘Punishment Through Time’, which does seem an odd omission for the live arena.
Overall though these were huge validations of what is clearly great material built to last.
Of course it’s the old treasures we’re there for, and they dont disappoint: a huge surprise as ‘Widow’ from ‘Icon’ is kicked out as the second song.
Even more surprising is a rendition of ‘Gothic’, done wonderfully with the full orchestral and choral works.
By contrast ‘As I Die’ sounds a little hollow, for some reason that’s hard to place. Probably the lack of Gregor in the mix once more.
As a highlight though, hearing the piano opener for ‘Enchantment’ is hard to match. A spine tingling moment from a spine tingling album, performed well, with Nick going for it. The audience surely would have frenzied for ‘The Last Time’ or ‘Forever Failure’, but it wasn’t to be.
Say Just Words
And then the strangest thing, once again indicative of changing times and fashions. The band return for an encore of their pop-tastic ‘Say Just Words’ and get the best crowd reaction of the night. Who’d have predicted that when it came out?
But both band and crowd are energized by it like no other track of the evening.
So overall it was good, verging on great – but never quite getting there.
We were robbed of Gregor and therefore the quintessence of the Paradise Lost atmosphere; without him leading prominently it sounded at times like a covers band trying the same material but without the dejection in their bones.
Still, when he was allowed his room in the mix, it was untouchable: the ‘Gothic’ solo was hair raising, right down to that authentic old tone.
I dont blame Nick for not being 100% into it, and Steve Edmondson has always looked a little distant any time I’ve seen them.
But good on Aaron Aedy for still giving it loads. It’s clear he cares and appreciates the feedback from the crowd.
It would’ve been nice to have been more thoroughly raving about it – and yes, it really was good, especially hearing how impressive the new stuff stands up. Bathed in alien greens and purples, ‘Beneath Broken Earth’ especially was a dark metal doom masterclass.
Hearing classics is always a risky business. Tonight served to remind me of the gallons and gallons of red wine I’ve drunk over the years in the company of ‘Draconian Times’, and will do again, with even more craving need now I know it can never be truly, properly recreated.
They did well against bad odds. A tough room. But a very satisfying gig in adverse circumstances. I dont mean to be down on it. But some bands just mean so much… you know?
– Earl Grey ::: 29/09/15