At the turn of the millennium, Paradox were on the verge of achieving the impossible – breaking America. After signing a record deal with Hollywood indie label, Jetspeed Records, the Cork-based grunge outfit recorded their debut LP in a studio once graced by Alice In Chains and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They performed on the Las Vegas strip and shot a video in the searing heat of the Nevada Desert before jetting of to yet more fanfare in New York.
Then, for reasons unknown, the band split with the now defunct label on their return to Hollywood. Determined to keep the outfit alive, the trio took the DIY route, recording two albums amid the slightly less glamorous, but equally beautiful backdrop of West Cork.
Composed and performed almost entirely by frontman Pete Mac at Wavefield Studios, Bantry, the band’s fourth and latest offering, ‘Chapters’, sees little change to a now long-established grunge by numbers formula.
Wheezing into life with a haunting prologue all but torn from the golden-era of German expressionist film, ‘Chapters’ outlines an ambitious mantra from the outset. The second track, As the World maintains this zeal, boasting a prowling bassline, immaculate production and a vocal performance that even His Grace Layne Staley would be proud of.
Nothing Lasts plays host to some gentle acoustic strumming, before breaking out into a stadium-sized riff supported by Mac’s arresting higher vocal range, agonising over the refrain “Here I am/ Here I stand/ Nothing Lasts.” It’s a trick that’s peppered throughout the LP, be it the equally forlorn Free as a Bird or Little Lives – a track ready to stake its claim as a long lost Steve Albini offcut from a certain recording session circa. 1993.
If ‘Chapters’ ever straddles a tightrope between Alice In Chains’ brand of desolate heartbreak and Nirvana’s adrenaline soaked fury, it’s on Burning Out. Opening with the flat pitch of a 4-track, before submerging into a ferocious riff, Burning Out sees Paradox at their most arresting, and dare I say it, radio friendly.
Drawing from the heroes of grunge with such as heavy hand proves to be a double edged sword for Paradox. In isolation, ‘Chapters’ is a perfectly enjoyable exemplar of the format – not a single gritty riff or strained vocal is out of place throughout the LP’s lofty 54-minute runtime. But elsewhere, little of ‘Chapters’ gifts something new to the musicsphere. Take the LP’s most lengthy recording, In Disguise – a track constructed on a bland melody that borrows so much from Kurt Cobain’s back catalogue that all emotional sincerity evaporates. It’s a problem replicated through much of the LP, even when approaching the sludgy end of the grunge spectrum on S.A.D.
There is a definite sense of déjà vu to ‘Chapters’, but perhaps that is the point. A DIY homage to glory days of the Seattle Sound – and if that’s what Paradox intended, it’s mission accomplished.