Paradise Lost – 5 ICONic Riffs

Paradise Lost – 5 ICONic Riffs

How do you choose?

For this essay I wanted to celebrate 30 years of one my all-time favourite albums, Icon, by Doom Metal gods, Paradise Lost.

I wanted to put together a top 5 riffs from the album list and explore them in greater detail. Needless to say, picking 5 to focus on was incredibly hard!

This may sound like a diss but, in terms of the bass work on this album, Stephen Edmondson’s not really doing anything complicated or remarkable. It’s really solid root note stuff with some slight rhythmic variations here and there to provide movement under the big slabs of Aaron Aedy’s riffing.

Paradise Lost have never really been a band for showy bass and drums; it’s always been about the guitars and the vocals.

This album really showcases Nick’s voice as he transitioned away from the Death growls of the earlier albums, Lost Paradise and Gothic, into a more shout/sing style that elevated their song writing and the production leaps and bounds.

Greg’s guitar lines are what really mark out Paradise Lost; they weave dark and lonely melodies over the Stonehenge riffing and thunderous rhythm section. Tastefully draped in reverb and delay, some of his melody lines are just majestic!

Crtieria for selection

Taking all of this superbness and talent and trying to distil it all down to 5 riffs was incredibly hard so I had to simply apply the following criteria:

  • Does the riff sound heavy/doomy/bleaky as fook?
  • Does the melody line make the hair stand up on my arms?

I know these are really NOT objective criteria but they are what they are and they really guided my choices.

Taking all of this superbness and talent and trying to distil it all down to 5 riffs was incredibly hard so I had to simply apply the following criteria:

Does the riff sound heavy/doomy/bleaky as fook?

Does the melody line make the hair stand up on my arms?

I know these are really NOT objective criteria but they are what they are and they really guided my choices.

a few quick notes

This album was recorded in D Standard tuning across both bass and guitars. There are no tuning changes from song to song so you can down tune and lock it in for the duration. (Same as for Shades of God and Draconian Times)

For the sake of easy explainations I’ll be referring to all notes and chords as if the guitar was in E standard tuning.

I’m not a guitarist or a drummer so the tabs for the guitars and drums (where I’ve added them) are rough approximations of what I’m hearing to provide the overall context. Some of the positions on the guitar are not right for Greg’s part but the notes are…

Let’s talk about tempo for a second: some of the songs on this record “sound” like fast rock songs but even some of them are actually at much, MUCH lower tempos than you think… Don’t fear tempos in the 53bpm range and think that it has to be up over a hundred because 51bpm is too slow!

This is Doom Metal after all!

Let’s take a look at my list…

1: true belief intro

This was one of the singles from the album and I remember hearing it and just feeling the weight of this riff; it’s titanic!

Traditional tabs have the whole thing at between 110 and 120 bpm but I’ve got the intro at 53 going up to about 114 for the link riff and Verse 1. Below is the audio (with a click) and my tab for this riff (it’s in 5 parts with all instruments shown).

Cheeky bar of 2/4 in there because there are 3 E bits of the riff before it goes up to A.

Just immense!


2: joys of the emptiness link riff 1

A big part of the Paradise Lost sound and songwriting is using unconventional chord progressions and scales.

This riff has been bugging me for years because I can’t figure out what key it’s in. Chances are it’s not strictly in one but is in something that’s not a mode or a key.

I’m not sure if any of them are theory heads but they often make chord changes to chords that don’t really “belong” in the key they’re in.

This song is a great example of this. Once again, it’s a big, slow, heavy tempo of 51bpm!

It’s built using a combination of a (broadly speaking) descending chromatic chords by Aaron (some inversions in there too: D5/A and C5/G) and a sequence of inverted tritones on the bass underneath (D – A♭ – C – G♭ – F) while Greg is playing a simply 3 note refrain (E – C – B) that soars over it all.

This combination of implied chromaticism in the guitar and the inverted tritones in the bass make this very tonally unstable and to me, very hard to pin down to a key.

No matter what key I choose there will be at least two accidentals that simply stand out and don’t belong that need to be accounted for. For that reason I’m leaving it as E minor.

All that being said, enjoy this short but sweepingly epic riff!

3: Forging sympathy solo into verses

Lots of unison lines between the bass and the rhythm guitar.

The bass is playing root notes, Aaron’s guitar is playing 5th/powerchords of the same notes while Greg is soaring above it all with a lead line that’s way up the octave but still the same notes. Serious unison layering going on!

Even though all this unison-ing thins out the chords somewhat the melody line being outlined is still massive and sweeping.

Apologies to lead guitarists, the solo is an approximation of what Greg is playing and isn’t 100% accurate!

Below is the audio and the JTR tab for this (in 5 parts)


4: Christendom Link Riff 1

Oh boy, this riff gives me all the chills.

Greg’s melody line, dipped in a nice even delay and a large reverb, is so lonely and epic in scale that it sets the hairs on my airs up on end!

Under all of that Stephen’s bass is dancing with both guitars.

Aaron is playing descending 5ths (F#, F♮ and E) before going up to the A5 for the stabs and while he’s descending, Stephen is rising. 

Stephen passes through G# (which puts him briefly in unison with Greg) on the way to A in bar 2 which is the major 3rd of F♮ (which is where Aaron is in bar 2). I know it’s a lot but stick with me!

Stephen makes a brief appearance on F♮ at the end of bar 2, effectively voice leading Aaron down to the big E5 and joining him for a bit of low end rumbling.

In bar 3 Stephen does the same thing, going from E for 3 beats to hitting the tritone of the key (C♮) before dropping down to the A to meet up with Aaron on the Minor 3rd of the scale.

While all of this is going on, Greg is playing the same melody again. He’s chosen a set of notes that work beautifully over all 4 chords.

Notice how economical Greg’s line is; the whole thing only spans 4 frets and crosses 4 strings in the same positions.

This movement across all registers is sublime. It’s so simple and so beautiful it makes me smile whenever I hear it.


5: colossal rains verse 2 & 3

This song is the definition of epic. Paced around 55bpm and with slabs of riffage, it is an absolute monster. I’ve omitted the drums from the audio so that the riffs have all the space to breathe and shine.

The chord progression here, such as it is in verse 2, is just thunderous and full of space.

Gregs line creeps in on a volume swell soaked in reverb and a delay. Notice, again, how economical he is with his positioning. This is the same pattern just moved up a 5th.

Speaking of 5ths, each line is a up a 5th from the root. Aaron and Stephen are solidly on the F♮5 in the stabs and Greg is launching his ship on C♮.

When the big open chords happen we’re into the key of Cm and Greg is launching off the high G!

This kind of harmony just sounds ancient and epic! It’s a real hallmark of the PL sound and it gives me chills 🙂


So that's it

This album is a masterpiece in my opinion; trying to pick a few riffs to look at and call my “favourites” is insanely hard!

I hope you like the ones I picked, they are truly towering riffs with everything that defines the PL sound and songwriting process. The triple-header of Shades of God, Icon and Draconian Times represents one of the all time great runs of album writing and releasing.

I love this album and whenever I hear it it gives me goosebumps and takes me back 30 years to when I first heard it.

Paradise Lost rule! 🤟🏽

Related Riffs