Some bands are so good they get into our hallowed Hall of Fame more than once, because they’ve released more than one album that is that good, that timeless, that majestic. Paradise Lost are most certainly one of those bands.
Their early-era masterpiece Gothic was first into our Hall, and we inducted their 1993 sound-shifting work of art Icon into the Hall in our March 2018 issue, which you can grab a copy of right here. And for good reason: few metal albums are as massive as Icon, as simultaneously moving with its glorious doom as it is crushing with its heaving death.
To honour Icon getting our HOF nod, let’s take a look back at the album, ranking the songs from least-great to most-great.
13. Deus Misereatur
It’s always neat and tidy when these Hall of Fame albums have intros or outros, because then something can be easily slotted here at the bottom. This time, it’s this outro instrumental track, which is nice enough in the context of the album—good to have something to contemplate with for a moment after this slab of death/doom glory is coming to a close—but as a standalone song, it’s nowhere near as essential as the rest of the album, even with those fun Cradle of Filth keyboard runs.
12. Dying Freedom
The only problem “Dying Freedom” has is that it’s sort of a summation of all that makes Icon great—which is not a problem by most bands’ standards—without really having as much of an identity of its own, compared to the four amazing songs that came before it, anyway. Still, it rules.
11. Shallow Seasons
On one hand, it’s easy to think the band is losing a bit of steam and running out of ideas as Icon nears its close and maybe, just maybe, goes on for a song or two too long. But “Shallow Seasons” redeems itself with great riffing, and a ferocious vocal performance from Nick Holmes. It ain’t “True Belief” but it’s still worth listening to, any day of the year, for the rest of your life. So, they were doing something right.
Denise Bernard’s guest vocals provide an effective gothic metal touch and actually end up stealing the show here, but when the band races in in full battle mode, the fight is on as to which side of Paradise Lost’s personality is going to win over listeners during this song, which closes off the album (instrumental aside) ambitiously and memorably.
9. Weeping Words
Another killer on an album just full of them, this brisk, upbeat song being memorable mainly for a great vocal line (“Don’t look back! Look back!… Look back!…”), but there’s also the fun guitar work and the locked-in rhythm section that deserve honourable mentions, not to mention the melancholy and despair that only Paradise Lost can bring with so much satisfaction. “Will we ever see your face again?” indeed.
I’m generally of the belief that all rock songs named “Poison” are going to be good, and even a few songs by bands named “Poison,” too; this song fits the bill, Paradise Lost delivering one of the best up-tempo songs of the album here. And: those early-song chord changes! Paradise Lost just do stuff like that, leaving us scratching our heads wondering why all bands don’t do things like that. But all bands aren’t Paradise Lost. No bands are Paradise Lost. So, time to lay down a killer guitar solo and this one’s over and done pretty fast, and we’re all the better for having spent a few minutes with it.
7. Forging Sympathy
Going back and listening to this album song by song and really analyzing them, one thing sticks out: these are all very, very well-crafted tunes. “Forging Sympathy,” placed in the all-important track three position, is pure mid/up-tempo Paradise Lost of this period: guitar work that alternates between perfect and even more perfect, a soulful vocal performance, the band gelling together in a way most bands would die for. This one creeps a bit higher on my list on some days but the average result over time is it sits below some of the more doomier fare on Icon.
6. Colossal Rains
That there is a doom song title if I’ve ever seen one, and I always enjoyed the weird first minute or so of this song, before the band plays it straight-faced again for a very Shades of God-ian melody and song structure. I consider Shades to be even better than Icon, so that ain’t a bad thing at all. Stately and destructive doom here.
“Widow” is a fantastic example of the faster side of Paradise Lost, this song’s chorus and vocal lines really shining, Holmes absolutely starting to really come into his own as a frontman here. Add in a guitar-hero ending and one wonders why songs like this didn’t propel the band into some kind of rock-star realm, a thought that, as you’ll see, comes up more than once while revisiting this classic album.
4. Joys of the Emptiness
The first three songs on Icon are all pretty up-tempo, by Paradise Lost standards, anyway. So what a joy that “Joys of the Emptiness” pulls it in a bit and looks back to the band’s earlier bpm preference of “slooow.” And even with their newfound love of huge rock swagger and songwriting confidence, they could still play heavy doom/death better than anyone else. In 1993, Paradise Lost weren’t just on top of their game: they were on top of a lot of games.
“Remembrance” is awesome because two songs in to Icon and Paradise Lost were chugging along at this epic, heroic arena-rock/doom tempo, the band creating huge sounds, enormous choruses, creating the sound of thousands of longhairs nervous that one of the greatest doom bands was about to become absolutely huge. Songs like this one still make me wonder why that didn’t happen.
2. True Belief
Weird how one of the greatest doom songs ever, and one of Paradise Lost’s best, is buried so deep on Icon, “True Belief” coming in as the album’s tenth track, that huge, life-affirming/destroying chorus finally just confirming that this album is the stuff of death/doom dreams after nine songs already gave us those suspicions. In all the best ways, this is kinda the “Enter Sandman” of death/doom, but without the nursery rhyme part and, you know, it’s amazing. By the time that last betcha-didn’t-think-it’d-be-a-verse kicks in, forget it, man: mere mortals can barely handle songs written this well.
1. Embers Fire
If only all death/doom albums opened with this much majesty, this much glory, this much confidence. This is how it’s done. And, yes, it was a bit shocking that Holmes had this much Hetfield in him when the song kicked in, but it was all the greatest parts of Hetfield, Paradise Lost taking The Black Album and making it amazing here, taking death/doom and giving it an anthem for the ages, taking music and just making it perfect.