Paradise Lost Draconian Times 01Draconian Times is an album that never should have worked. By now Paradise Lost’s career trajectory has been discussed ad nauseam – from rotten doom-death to Depeche Mode-inspired dance rock to their current gothic metal resurgence – and Times was essentially that early transition album, a puberty-stricken adolescent with a new slicked-up hairdo and a European leather jacket that still fit a little too big. Released in 1995, the sound is essentially The Sisters of Mercy playing Load-era Metallica, with vocalist Nick Holmes doing his best James Hetfield impression through songs with soppy titles like “Forever Failure” and “The Last Time.” A cursory listen reveals some apparent missteps: “The Last Time” has one of the most lunkheaded choruses ever (“Hearts beating, hearts beating”) repeated over what is probably the first chord progression budding guitarists ever learn, and “Once Solemn” is likely the most straightforward rock song ever written by a band that once played doom metal. Whether or not Times was a true bid for commercialism is a mystery, but the music was certainly far more accessible than anything they’d written before.

This, of course, is where I say “despite these issues” – only I won’t, because Draconian Times doesn’t succeed in spite of anything. It just fucking succeeds. I’ve always maintained that the best albums work because of a certain feeling they exude – melodies, vocal lines, and riffs, no matter how catchy, all get old at some point, but when an album can truly pull you into its own world, listening to it is more an experience in being drowned in its aura than dissecting its actual notes. Take Gregory Mackintosh’s guitarwork: even though most of it could probably be performed by a second-year guitar student, his fretwork is both genuinely inventive and timelessly emotive, from the plaintive melodies of “Hallowed Land” and “Shadowkings” to the fist-to-the-sky lead that erupts from the opening chugs of “Hands of Reason.” Over the years, his guitar tone here has steadily become my definition of perfect, balancing dreaminess with balls and slickness with crunch, all while evoking mental images of raincloud-bloated skies, crooked cathedral spires, and depressed Englishmen watching their youth slip away.

One can’t even fault Holmes’ Hetfield-inspired vocals: his inflection and passion here show him at the pinnacle of his career, meshing perfectly with Mackintosh’s rocking climaxes, and made all the stronger with occasional forays into Type O Negative-style crooning. His performance is even more endearing due to the lyrics – esoteric, yet simple enough to remain universally accessible. Take the repeated croon of “All I need is a simple reminder” in keyboard-laced opener “Enchantment,” the catchy pre-chorus of “You want to live a lifetime each and every day” in “Hallowed Land,” or the infamous wail of “The feeling can’t avoid you!” in closer “Jaded.” I can’t provide a satisfactory explanation for the meaning of any of these lines, yet it feels like Nick ripped them straight out of the less embarrassing portions of my high school journal [Ha! You had a journal. — Steel Druhm].

Paradise Lost Draconian Times 02b

For an album so compositionally simple, Times is one of the few records I own that has never become stale. Thank Mackintosh’s guitarwork, sure, but also the unexpected twists like the Charles Manson samples in the mournful “Forever Failure,” the reinvention of the chorus in the final minute of “The Last Time” (“Hearts beating FOR the last time!”), or the upbeat riding-into-the-sunset vibe of penultimate track “I See Your Face.” Draconian Times is the rare album where every track has the potential to be a favorite, where picking highlights is next to impossible because every moment is just as incredible as the one that preceded it – and yet even through straightforward rockers like “Once Solemn,” the entrancing atmosphere is never lost, it just takes a new form for a few minutes.

Listening to this makes me feel bad for people holed up in their compact SUVs and cookie-cutter houses, people who’ve never bothered to explore music beyond The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. It’s an album that stands alone in both sound and inspiration, a once-in-a-career masterwork that bleeds nostalgia and yet still sounds fresh 20 years later. A few years back, Nick Holmes stated he couldn’t even recall anything about the recording process – and maybe that’s the key to making a great album, is to just make it and let brilliance blossom on its own without straining for perfection. With a new Paradise Lost record out next month – apparently hearkening back to their doom-death roots – there’s no better time to look back and appreciate Draconian Times. I won’t say it’s perfect – wait, yes I will. Thank you, Paradise Lost. Because this album is fucking flawless.

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  • Pretty much a perfect album. Bought it at release and still listen to it lots today.I even like the “Hearts beating” line.

    The production still sounds fantastic. The guitar tones are perfect. When the big crunchy chords come in following the quite bits of Hallowed Land it’s guitar tone nirvana. Love it.

  • I think everyone with a passing knowledge of PL’s discography has been waiting and hoping they decide to come back to Draconian Times. It happened with Tragic Idol and Faith Divides Us… two very solid and enjoyable albums but almost impossible to avoid to compare to Draconian Times and feel a yearning for more similarities to it.

    I’ve liked the songs they have released of the new one so far. They have a nice gravitas that was a little lost from Tragic Idol and FDU:DUU.

  • Fisting_Andrew_Golota

    My friend and I were talking the other night about riffs/solos/albums that you couldn’t get away with today, but were absolutely perfect and therefore timeless. This is one of those albums.
    Also, that solo at the end of “Once Solemn” gave me visuals of dudes on horses riding of into the sunset. 20 years later, it still kicks my ass.

    • You’re damn right, also the song you mentioned is flawless.

  • KingKuranes

    This was my first exposure to Paradise Lost and I always thought it was a great album, but I like pretty much everything they’ve done.

  • De2013

    Wow, thaaaaaat old that record! Wait …. I bought that in a record store when it was released. Oh my.

  • tomasjacobi

    I didn’t even like metal when this came out, but bought it anyway because of a glowing review that talked about the great gothic vibe of the album. It was only years later when i had gotten completely into metal that I realized that this probably was the first metal album I ever really liked.
    I stil love the album and listen to it regularly.
    I hold a similar affection for the follow-up “One Second” which is their last great album before it all went wrong with “Host”.
    I didn’t reconnect until “Tragic Idol” came out.

    • Wilhelm

      I enjoyed Host way more than One Second, I also think that Believe in Nothing was a great alt-metal album, but not many would agree with me.

      • tomasjacobi

        I really wanted to like Host when it came out, but I always got bored with it after a few songs. I have no problem with the Depeche Mode worship, I just think the songwriting is rather stale compared to their previous albums.

    • Grymm

      Okay… FAITH DIVIDES US, DEATH UNITES US.

      Give it an honest shot. It’s a near-flawless album, I promise you. :)

      • tomasjacobi

        I have tried listening to that album a few times. While not bad, I think it’s more of a transitional album where they try and get back to being a metal band. Tragic Idol is a much better album IMO.
        But ok, I’ll put it on tonight and see if I suddenly see the light :-)

  • Feytalist

    Preach it, brother.

    This was one of the very first metal albums I heard. I probably didn’t appreciate it as much at the time, but even then my goth-rock-loving self knew it was special. Then, a couple of years ago, I rediscovered it and it blew my socks off. It’s… simple, yes, but so much more the powerful for it.

  • Wilhelm

    This was one of my favorite albums back in the day. I didn’t listen to it for a while and on my last PL kick I put it on and it was still amazing. How they managed to combine gothic rock and heavy metal together is beyond me (that fucking guitar tone was fabulous), but the album is a beautiful, emotional journey. I think they should have carried on with this sound for another album before they started playing more commercial sounding goth stuff.

    Oh by the way Enchantment shouldn’t work, it’s a slow plodding song that is the opener – not very conventional, but it does somehow.

    • Ernesto Aimar

      I think “In Requiem” holds some of the magic mood they crafted in Draconian, specially in songs like “Ash & Debris” or “in requiem” (and it’s mind blowing solo). Ever since they have gone far back in order to regain more of their original sound.

  • I still love this one. So damn moody, yet rocking.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Great review …. It’s been waaay too long between Yer Metal is olde’s.
    More please!

    Very much of its era, but but with such a singular character. It’s no nostalgia trip, this is pretty much the ultimate doom rock record.

    I’ve always thought of it as a strange collusion of The Cult’s very english ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ voodoo goth rock and American alterno metal ala Alice in Chains and Smashing Pumpkins.

    So you’ve done a My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost YMiO how about completing the gloomy triumvirate by having the final say on Anathema’s Alternative 4 … go on

    • Tom Hardy

      Katatonia? But lets be serious for a sec, if we’re going to do this, shouldn’t we stick to the same year or maybe a year ahead of behind? Alternative 4 came out in 98 as opposed to this PL album from 95. Different sounds, different influences, many things can change in a span of 3 years ; ).

      I don’t know which My Dying Bride album was picked earlier, but if it was anything other than The Angel and the Dark River, it’d be a waste of a comparison imho.

      • Wilhelm

        It was The Angel….But hey Turn Loose The Swans is even better.

        • Tom Hardy

          As The Flower Withers is their best according to me. Such a cold, desolate, raw, fantastic debut.

        • eloli

          The Angel and the Dark River is, by far, my favourite My Dying Bride album, even if their unholy TLTS – TAATDR – LGOTS triptych still get a lot of spins from this aging headbanger.
          I also loved 34% Complete, a pretty interesting direction the band should have pushed a little further… a real shame the band took the backlash against this album so seriously, they’ve been basically rehashing their three previous albums ever since.

          • Wilhelm

            Agreed 34% was their creative peak, I think the steady path into rehashed material was the result of half the original band leaving. I’m interested to see what they do now that Calvin is back.

      • Carlos Marrickvillian

        I’m a big fan of Alternative 4…its a classic. Anathema’s Silent Enigma was released the same year as Draconian Times, Ive never spent anytime with that one. I can imagine it’s anything other than brilliant tho.
        How about Eternity? it preceded Alternative 4
        Was listening to it and A4 today after reading review.

        • Olly P Johnson

          Silent Enigma is amazing, it was recorded and written in ten days in a studio, from scratch! It’s great, although my anathema obsession is never greater than when Pentecost III is on! that record is pretty much unique, the opening trio of Kingdom, Yours is mine to drown in, and We the gods is just incredible.

          Would love to see a write up on any Anathema album, but Pentecost III or Silent enigma would have to be it for me!

          • Wilhelm

            Everything they did until Judgement was flawless; Serenades and Eternity are my favs though.

          • Olly P Johnson

            I saw them 3 weeks ago in London, 3 sets, 3 different lineups, 3 HOURS! When they played Kingdom with Darren White on vocals I nearly did every emotion all at once. Incred scenes.

          • doom-erik

            What – Kingdom with the mighty Darren?? Wish I had been there! Did he do vocals on any other songs?

          • Olly P Johnson

            Hey man, sorry I took so long to reply. It was incredible, seeing Darren on stage for kingdom was a dream come true, it was truly a life experience.

          • Grymm

            I would have honestly killed to see “Kingdom” or even “We, the Gods” with Darren on vocals.

          • doom-erik

            Love most of the stuff by Antathema from Serenades to Judgement (actually I think I enjoy Silent Enigma the least of these). But I got to agree with you – Pentecost III was probably their finest moment.

        • BilboBaggins

          Everything Anathema in the 90’s was solid gold, from their earlier death/doom to their Pink Floydian atmo-rock. Or you could say anything with the bass player Duncan Patterson still attached to it (he left in 1998). Silent Enigma was my gateway album when I bought it back in 1995. Used to listen to it once everyday for a few months.

  • Ernesto Aimar

    PERFECTION. That’s all I can say about this album

  • Tom Hardy

    Doesn’t hold a candle to their best album – Gothic.

    • Wilhelm

      The Beauty of Paradise Lost is that their 2nd through 5th album are all amazing masterpieces, but all in their own way. Gothic was amazing and influential.

      • eloli

        Totally.
        My personal favourite is Icon, but the run the band had between Gothic and Draconian Times’s still untouchable. IMO, the run goes from their 2nd through their 6th album, but I know not everyone likes One Second, since they took their goth influences way too far on that one.
        Although I know I’m in the minority, I also like the band’s Depeche Mode wannabe albums, especially Host… that’s probably because that outside heavy metal, my favourite music subgenres are new wave and 80s synth pop. :D

        • Wilhelm

          Host still sounds fresh to me – it really is a great album for the genre it’s in.

  • Christian P

    “… but when an album can truly pull you into its own world, listening to it is more an experience in being drowned in its aura than dissecting its actual notes.”

    Wildhoney does this for me as well

    • eloli

      Same here.

      Wildhoney’s actually my favourite all time album, if one’s allowed to have one.

      Grymm wrote a great tribute for Wildhoney on this same Yer Metal is Old series, you can read it here:

      http://www.angrymetalguy.com/yer-metal-olde-tiamat-wildhoney/

    • Alex Leverkühn

      So does “Discouraged Ones.”

  • Bixente

    Friends at school offered me this album for my 21st birthday (1995)… What a present it was ! Today, the album is ripped on my phone and even if my tates have changed i still listen to it very often, i believe it means something …

  • RuySan

    I’m a huge Paradise Lost fan. What i like about this band is their ability to reinvent themselves but still keep the same vibe.

    I even loved Host, and never thought they sold out, because seriously, how could a depeche mode/sisters of mercy sound could be considered “selling out” in ’99?

    But i agree, even with a brilliant discography, Draconian Times is their pinnacle. What a perfect album with a perfect blissful atmosphere. God bless Greg’s guitar leads.

  • Grymm

    I love this album tremendously.

    My only beef with it is the fact that “Another Desire”, one of the best songs PL has ever written (let alone for that time period) was forever relegated to the B-side of “Forever Failure” instead of having a proper spot on Draconian Times

    Great review, btw!

    • My vote for Song Most Criminally Left Off An Actual Album would be “Sweetness”. A shocking omission from Icon imo.

  • Olly P Johnson

    Where do you stand with the other two, Anathema and My Dying Bride. I love all eras but Pentecost III and Angel and the Dark River are next level, all time, masterworks.

  • eloli

    Great write up, extremely well written and brings so much memories… I became a huge Paradise Lost fan around 1995, in the Icon days. I was lucky enough to catch the band live at a big Monsters of Rock festival in 1995, where they played two then unreleased tunes from Draconian times: Once Solemn and Forever Failure. Normally, crowds at huge concerts such as this loose interest immediately when the band starts playing less known songs, in this case, it was the exact opposite, especially with the former. In fact, the only moment where the crowd’s enthusiasm was higher was when the band took the stage with a flawless rendition of “Ember’s Fire”, speaking of which, my guess is that “Enchantment” was probably written with the intention of replacing the former as their live opener.

  • This album has the distinction of being the only CD I ever bought 3 times. I loaned my first copy to a girl I worked with at the time and she never gave it back, then I bought it again. That copy fell between the seats in my car and the CD physically cracked. And the third copy I still have (in my attic somewhere). I love this album, and was in the very early days of my foray into European metal. At the time, I was already a Type O fan, and when I saw this CD at a local record store, I bought it as an impulse buy without know anything about the band of their music. Upon first listen, I was hooked! I loved this this album and played it over and over. Today, I dont know I share the same high regard as Mark Z does about the songwriting, but in terms of a reflection upon that part of my life, it is definitely an enjoyable listen for nostalgic purposes. I think I will listen to it now! :)

  • Marek Trela

    Wow, you perfectly expressed how I feel about this album. Timeless records. The guitar playing is so simple and yet so effective an emotional. I love Paradise Lost for that.

  • I remember that It was very hard to pass the Hetfield vocal style. But with every spin it clicked more and more. Hallowed Land is my favorite PL song, right now!

    Awesome induction!

  • DecayforDK

    Bought this the day it was released. Still listen to it regularly, and everytime “Shadowkings” makes me feel nineteen years old again. And I still sometimes find myself whisteling that solo in the shower… damn…

    Great review btw…

  • I have bought this album twice. The first time I listened to it so much I scratched the upper side of the cd rendering it useless and unlistenable from Forever Failure onwards. For some reason.

    Now That I have it again, I can say that for me, this album has one of the top spots along with Dark Saga from Iced Earth (Which I daresay is my favorite album of all time, i know it is not that great but for me it was such an incredible help to get through things while everything was falling apart)

    Now Draconian Times…. draconian times is love made music. Yes maybe is sounds commercial, and has all these things….

    I think it’s success lies in its sheer simplicity and catchiness. The composition just sticks to your brain like honey in a hot day.

    I see your face being my fav from this, well, Kudos to you for putting this up and reminding us and even better, letting us know as a community that we are Legion. because we are many.

    • FutureBeyondSatan

      You should never feel the need to explain the love of an Iced Earth album.

  • alx

    I will never understand why this album is so popular. Is this album perhaps more popular in USA than in Europe? I still remember the disappointment when putting the disc in the player and hearing the electric piano coming through the speakers. What’s this, poop doom? Having lived with the masterpiece, Icon for two years this was just… *meh*.

    As far as their best albums; I think Icon is closely followed by Gothic.

    Anyway, having heard the new single I’m very excited for the new album.

    • BilboBaggins

      I’m in the USA and my friends and I were pretty disappointed with this album when it came out after being a fan of Paradise Lost’s previous albums (“Gothic” being my favorite). I’m actually a bit shocked at a lot of the praise it’s getting here and on the YouTube comment sections for the album. “Draconian Times” felt like it was influenced heavily by Metallica’s Black Album like a lot of bands were during the early/mid 90’s. I wanted to like this album, the artwork’s great, the music is kind of pop goth… the guitars never really get that heavy nor do the melodies really get that dark. At lot of it gets way too much into 80’s butt rock territory (“Hallowed Land”, for example, or The Scorpions-influenced chorus of “The Last Time” … big city… big city lights). But what really kills it for me is that every time he starts singing he sounds like a bad imitation of Black Album-era James Hetfield or a more coherent Rob Zombie. 20 years later and I’m listening to it right now as I write this just to make sure I wasn’t tripping. Nope, I still feel the same way about it.

  • Nag Dammit

    PL must win the prize for most consistently awesome album artwork. All except for the dreadful ‘look away from the camera enigmatically’ rubbish ness that is ‘Host’.

  • This album got me into metal. Still love it.