DVD REVIEW: PARADISE LOST – “Symphony for the Lost “
The ancient Roman Theatre of Philippopolis in Plovdiv, Bulgaira is the setting for a rare, possibly once off performance by British Goth Metal pioneers, Paradise Lost. Their latest DVD ‘Symphony for the Lost’, to be released November 20th via Century Media, captures this heavily, but not exclusively, orchestral accompanied performance to some of the bands best known tracks. Ambitious, brave, with high production values and excellent editing, ‘Symphony for the Lost’ has some pretty impressive moments, but overall, it doesn’t quite come together as well as it might have.
Divided neatly into two parts, the first half features a respectably dressed Paradise Lost accompanied by the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra with the Rodna Pesen Choir, conducted by Levon Manukyan. Manukyan, well known within the metal community for having lent his talents to artists such as including Marilyn Manson, Alice Cooper, Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish) and Judas Priest is clearly enjoying the experience. But truth be told, the orchestra and choir are an opportunity missed as the musical arrangements accompanying the songs don’t really add anything new or open up greater dimensions. Rather, the songs seem to rest on the orchestral and choral arrangements, like a filled-out backing track. The presence of the orchestra also seems to affect the band members who look uncomfortable and stiff at times and never really let loose. The only person onstage blatantly enjoying themselves is Manukyan.
After a fade-out after about the 40 minute mark, it quickly becomes apparent that ‘Symphony for the Lost’ is closer to Beethoven’s unfinished 10th than Metallica’s ‘S&M’. As the orchestra and choir take their bows and exit the stage to loud applause, the whole begins to feel like an unfinished symphony with the band performing the second half as they normally would. Well, almost normal. For a moment, it looks like things might start to kick off, but the restraint felt in the first half has obviously taken hold. In what follows, there’s a huge sense of Paradise Lost uncharacteristically holding back or reining themselves in, and the energy does not feel like one of their better shows.
Production-wise, ‘Symphony for the Lost’ is a little hit-and-miss. The audio is excellent and the images crystal-clear, but the lighting is not to their usual dim-lit, atmospheric, gritty best. It’s all too clean and neat and shiny, like their clothes, feeling basic in places and shedding a pretty heavy spotlight on an often uncomfortable-looking performance. The venue, regardless of its beauty, seems to create a distance between the band and crowd, in both length and height, a distance that momentary chants break down in places, but one that still remains strong. At one point, singer Nick Holmes admits “I can’t even see you up there.” Where ‘Symphony for the Lost’ really shines is in its first rate editing. Switching neatly and quickly between close ups and wide shots, black and white and coloured images, the band and the orchestra, the editing tries to instil an energy unfortunately lacking in the performance. Still, as the band finish out their set and bid goodbye to the audience, they leave the stage to their hard core fans bellowing out their name.
At one point Paradise Lost ask “Is this cool or what?” Cool? More like interesting. Artistically courageous? In a sense, but in another not courageous enough. The orchestral and choral section, while interesting, never really exploited the possibilities it could have. There are moments where it does indeed work. Set opener “Tragic Idol” is a perfect example of where arrangements, despite their subtlety, work in places. In others though, such as “Joys of Emptiness”, they really don’t add anything. Then there are tracks such as “One Second” where the orchestral element could have really lent itself to this track, but instead, it’s the original band and sample sounds we’re all familiar with. When the second half of the set features backing tracks of Gothic vocals and sample sounds of piano keys just as the orchestra and choir have been dismissed, you can’t help but wonder why even bother with this idea at all if you’re not going to go all the way. Had their fear and evident apprehension been overcome, this could have been a very special show. Unfortunately, it feels more like they played it safe by taking on half a set; merely supporting the songs with orchestral arrangements and choral harmonies and cutting it off at the halfway mark.
Paradise Lost are one of the great metal bands, both recorded and live, but ‘Symphony for the Lost’ does not do what it says on the tin. As a DVD, it is a visually captivating, well-shot, and masterfully edited piece. Its variance between quick colour/black and white shots, close-ups and wide angles keeps it interesting to watch. But when it comes down to it, this is half a symphony that barely touches on its potential, followed by a pretty brooding and restrained (and not in the good Gothic way) performance by the band. What could have been a triumph for the band feels like an opportunity missed. It just would have been nice if they had just gone for it and seen the journey through to the end. “Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again, Fail again. Fail better.” Here’s hoping Paradise Lost will try again for there’s a real sense of an amazing show trying to get out here. One can only hope one day it will.
‘Symphony for the Lost’, released November 20th via Century Media, comes in a 2 CD + DVD Deluxe Edition accompanied by a 48 page booklet.