Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2021
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

Doesn’t Quite Live Up to Its Reputation - 75%

lonerider, May 9th, 2021
Written based on this version: 1995, CD, Music for Nations

Paradise Lost, those veteran merchants of musical melancholy, have always held a special place in my metal heart. There aren’t many bands that can evoke so much heart-wrenching sadness with a few simple lead-guitar chords as this weather-beaten gang of surly Yorkshiremen. At the same time, they are also quite unique in that they have released a multitude of albums throughout a career spanning more than three decades, yet no two albums sound quite the same. Constant stylistic shifts, sometimes moderate and sometimes drastic ones, are one of their trademarks, but that never kept them from maintaining a clear and unmistakeable identity that’s instantly recognizable no matter which one of their many albums you’re listening to.

Despite their stylistic flexibility, we can roughly group Paradise Lost’s studio output into three categories: the early years up to and including Draconian Times, their soul-searching period of more experimental releases beginning with 1997’s One Second, and finally their second spring—beginning with 2007’s In Requiem—, which saw them rediscover the heaviness and doom metal aesthetics of the early to mid 1990s. Seen from that angle, Draconian Times marked the end of the first chapter in the band’s extensive history, the culmination of their ongoing development up to that point but, since it already bore the seeds of what was to come only two years later, also a foreshadowing of their next evolutionary step.

For some reason, Draconian Times appears to be held in particularly high regard by the metal community and while it is without a doubt a worthy addition to Paradise Lost’s impressive portfolio, I have never quite understood the infatuation some people seem to have with it. In many ways, Draconian Times is a watered-down reprise of Icon, which was a more vigorous and determined effort, this time adding some overly maudlin and, frankly speaking, slightly trivial elements to the formula.

Nick Holmes’ performance on Draconian Times exemplifies it best: after starting out as a more or less generic death metal vocalist and having only just established his clean singing voice on Icon, prompting some to call him doom metal’s version of James Hetfield, Holmes pushes it a step further this time around, introducing his “metallic crooning” style and extinguishing the last lingering remnants of death metal gruffness from his vocal delivery. Some might say this was his strongest and most mature performance up to this point, and they may not be wrong from a strictly technical standpoint. Holmes does sound comfortable and fully in charge and there’s no denying his more restrained and melodic approach fits the more streamlined songwriting on Draconian Times.

Songs are mostly kept short and to the point, with the two longest ones up front and the rest rarely exceeding the four-minute mark. In all, the twelve tracks on offer take up a mere 49 minutes and concise cuts such as “The Last Time” or “I See Your Face” are very much geared toward extended airplay and mainstream success. Music television was still all the rage in the mid nineties and “The Last Time,” with its ultra-catchy chorus (“hearts beating... faaaaawr the last time”) and professional music video, was a staple on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball or similar shows on other channels, giving the band its first veritable hit single and earning them widespread popularity throughout the metal scene. It was also one of Paradise Lost’s faster songs up to that point, rivaled only by the even quicker and somewhat punkish “Once Solemn,” which happens to be track number five on Draconian Times. The more somber “Forever Failure,” with its plodding doom-like pace and infamous Charles Manson sample (“I don’t really know what sorry means”), was also promoted by a music video and certainly ranks among the album’s highlights.

“Elusive Cure,” “Yearn for Change” or the closing “Jaded” are more introverted tunes and they clearly show the limits of Paradise Lost’s songwriting formula on Draconian Times, coming across as passable yet unspectacular tracks which don’t offer anything that like-minded but more succinct and rousing cuts such as “Shades of God” or “Hands of Reason” don’t deliver in more convincing fashion. This may sound rather negative when in fact all of these tracks are quite well done, competently written and cleanly executed. There are no downright duds but a fair share of rather mediocre moments and there’s no sugarcoating that the whole thing starts to feel a bit, well, unspectacular and slightly underwhelming by the time track number twelve rolls around.

Maybe the problem lies in the running order since the band decided to put what are arguably the two best—which also happen to be the longest—songs at the very beginning. With the exception of the excellent “Shadowkings,” which all but captures the same epic mood, “Enchantment” and “Hallowed Land” are definitely the most well-rounded and sweeping compositions, giving the music room to breathe and lending a cinematic vastness and grandeur that the shorter tracks too often lack. For the first time in their career, Paradise Lost extensively use piano and keyboard sounds as a means to enhance the atmosphere and it works wonders here, while the crunchy guitars and overall stellar production provide the metaphorical icing on the cake. And by the way, the “there’s no rule to say you’ll cry alone” section in “Enchantment” as well as the “begone the fools that lead me” part concluding “Hallowed Land” are simply a joy to listen to, proving that when the album hits its stride it’s really pretty darn good.

Alas, as Paradise Lost are unable to maintain that level of quality throughout the album’s entire duration, Draconian Times ends up as a very good and sometimes even great collection of songs that ultimately falls short of its immediate precursor Icon, but also of stylistically comparable later albums such as the stellar “Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us” and “Tragic Idol,” which are a bit more consistent and maintain a heavier, keener metallic edge. Yes, Draconian Times is a little overrated in my view, but it’s nonetheless one of the most significant and impactful releases in the band’s career and the last album of Paradise Lost’s classic period before they ventured into more experimental territory and later regained their mojo with “In Requiem” and beyond.

Choicest cuts: Enchantment, Hallowed Land, Forever Failure, Shadowkings, I See Your Face

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 points