Words by Greg Walker
Paradise Lost‘s groundbreaking 1993 LP Icon is exactly that – an icon that is without a shadow of a doubt in the upper echelons of my favourite albums of all time, a defining moment for both the band and my own developing musical tastes.
Despite being a product of the technology of its day, Icon has always sounded current, vast, and all-encompassing, each song combining to render this collection an example of absolute perfection. For the longest time, Icon has been one of a number of early tomes that Paradise Lost have had zero control over due to label red tape. That is, until now. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Paradise Lost have re-recorded the classic in its entirety as Icon 30, freeing them from the bonds of their former label and allowing them to release special editions in celebrations not possible without Icon 30.
Opening track Ember’s Fire is in an instant a revisiting of an old friend, but one that isn’t quite the same anymore. To point out the modern version’s shortcomings is absurdly petty and to sift through it with an incredibly fine-toothed comb, for on the surface this is a quality execution. But knowing this as one of my absolute favourite songs from one of my favourite albums, I can’t help but instantly notice that Icon drummer Matt Archer is missed. This single highlights the absence of his flow captured in 1993, and that’s not to say that Guido Montanarini does a bad job, his vigour is solid, and the new drum sound is complimentary, but Archer’s work is such a major component of the original’s feel. Altogether the sound is rich yet does differ to discerning ears, and on the surface is probably not so noticeable as scrutinising the two versions side by side through quality earbuds, however it is there. Nick Holmes‘ latter-day vocals do add to the positives, the extra gravel his matured style injects is not so much an improvement as an enhancement, even if Nick’s pitch and enunciation nuances aren’t entirely faithful to the definitive opus. A goosebump moment is guitarist Greg Macintosh‘s solo, only a slight variation, but his 1993 feel is intact.
Backing up with Remembrance, Nick Holmes’ vocals stray a little too far for my liking, certainly not bad by any stretch however his original delivery characterised so much of what made the 1993 LP exemplary, and it’s at this point I realise it’s unfair to be comparing a vocal tract 30 years older.
There’s more tenderness in places, and I’m feeling Nick has approached Icon 30 as an interpretation more so than a faithful rendition. Musically this particular track feels assembled rather than the colossal flow of the ’93 masterpiece, but again I’m comparing, which again in this case is unavoidable.
Both the emotional and musical tone of Forging Sympathy is slightly off, however Joys Of The Emptiness is a better interpretation, retaining the huge comforting depression. Dying Freedom was a track I’d looked forward to hearing redone, and while again not a true transcription, it does preserve the mood.
Throughout the journey so far the bass is much more audible than on Icon, which is most welcome in places like the verses and pre-chorus of Dying Freedom where the drum work fits well and is as fun as a Paradise Lost tune can get. By this point at five songs in, I do catch myself comparing less and absorbing this release as a standalone effort, which makes for a more enjoyable experience on the whole.
Icon 30s first single Widow has the characteristic of satisfying modern production yet didn’t grab on first listen back in early October, but listening now as part of the overall sequence it fits well and maintains the 1993 intensity and spirit. Colossal Rains presents as a little flat, a little empty, a little less colossal; a great performance but unfortunately has me yearning for the spacious sound and scope of the perfect original.
Weeping Words suffers the same shortcomings until the central bridge, the song breathing unrestrained momentarily. Poison gains a great deal from the modern production when viewed from the position of hearing Icon 30 as its own entity, and another example of Greg Macintosh’s excellent handiwork throughout, as expected of any Paradise Lost album.
Third single True Belief is the highlight of this anniversary issue, benefiting the most from the modern production whilst preserving the dark gothic emotion. The incredible production sound really supports the build to the ethereal chorus, the outro almost uplifting, ascending where other translated tracks weren’t quite able to. The intro to Shallow Seasons also misses Matt Archer’s flow, and the massive guitars that kicked in on the seminal edition are tamer here, although the urgency remains, which is a positive.
Christendom suits Nick Holmes’ mature vocal powers most and is surprisingly on point, to my ears the most accurate depiction on Icon 30 and the most enjoyable listen of the collection. Deus Misereatur closes us out, Guido Montanarini’s modern drum sound an asset, bringing punch to the gorgeous atmosphere of the reimagined haunting instrumental.
As a standalone platter, Icon 30 is stellar, but iconic…? Listening with quality earphones and an intimate knowledge of its predecessor the differences are at times distinct, unmistakable, however on a speaker this is less noticeable, and I’m actually able to appreciate the result noticeably more.
Despite its shortcomings it still wipes the floor with most modern metal releases, however Icon 30 will largely be rendered a curiosity for this fan, driving me to yearn for the clarity, warmth, and expansive enveloping character of the pioneering Icon’s immense sound. Re-recording a classic for whatever reason almost always falls short to some degree when directly compared with the original, whether in execution, sound, or the stirring of adolescent emotions felt when first digesting something as emotionally epic as Icon.
Having said that, I understand why Paradise Lost have undertaken this project, which really is a commendable genuine rendition. If Icon 30 allows the band to move forward with a sense of ownership over some of their older material, then I’m all for that too.