I had intended to start this review with a throwaway phrase, something like ‘is there anyone in Sleeping Shamanland that doesn’t already know all there is to know about Paradise Lost’s Draconian Times?’. Then I quickly realised that as this is a 25th anniversary edition, the chances are that some of you pubescent drains on society might not have even been born when it was originally released. So, in the same way as my father once sat down and explained life before the wheel to me, so I shall put Draconian Times into a bit of context for you…
The 1990s were a somewhat strange time for metal as we know it. The initial flurry associated with thrash had ebbed away. Hair metal had been slain for good (or so we hoped) by the pained strains of Seattle, but so had every other echo of ‘real metal’. Pearl Jam’s Jeremy had not only ‘bit the recess lady’s breast’ but had also made metal deeply unfashionable.
The two exceptions to this were Metallica and Pantera, who without ever really crossing into one another’s worlds, managed to keep this particular teenager sane at the time. Of course, beneath this layer of unparalleled commercial success was an underground scene that was as strong as ever, and Paradise Lost were a key part of this. Their 1993 album Icon was and remains a classic of the goth/doom metal genre, so someone at Music For Nations clearly thought Paradise Lost were their best chance of breaking another metal band into the mainstream. As such, Draconian Times was supported by a huge media campaign and I distinctly remember a journalist in Kerrang! doing a preview piece and referring to the record as ‘potentially the British Black album’.
Draconian Times did prove to be Paradise Lost’s most commercially successful album, and it saw them play the main stages of all of the big European festivals. Whilst it obviously fell short of providing them with Metallica-sized exposure and popularity, it could certainly be argued that it cemented their career. Every fan has their favourite period, be it the early death-doom stuff, or the late 90s Gary Numan tribute act phase (I may have inadvertently just made my allegiances clear there…), but at a Paradise Lost show you can be confident that pretty much everyone is united in their affection for Draconian Times.
Fast forward 25 years, and it’s now been re-released to mark its quarter century by the fine folks at Music For Nations. I’ll go out on a limb and say that this is an album that every fan of heavy music should at least hear…and then 95% should go on to own a copy. I’ve owned my original CD copy since the week it came out, and I’m pretty sure there hasn’t been a year since 1995 that it hasn’t been pulled off the shelf and played at least once – it’s a mini cornerstone of the genre – at least for us Brits anyway.
Draconian Times jettisons all of the progressive elements that they’d dabbled with on Shades Of God, and Nick Holmes has by this point abandoned his death-growl (it returned 20-odd years later). What is left is twelve streamlined chunks of pure gothic heavy metal. In a fist-fight the Icon album might have the knockout punch in terms of the riffs, but what Draconian Times has in its favour, is hugely memorable songs throughout.
it doesn’t matter which edition you buy, just make sure this classic release of British metal has pride of place in your collection…
This album has seen a number of reissues in the past – I’m not sure it has really ever been truly out of print. However, the big news in 2020 is that Draconian Times is back on vinyl! There was a limited edition vinyl pressed in 2010 by Peaceville, but other than that, the analogue purists amongst us have had to shell out big bucks for a second hand original LP until now, so this is something to be celebrated. There are a number of different colour variants to choose from – who’s life isn’t made better by white vinyl with blue and red splatters?! – and also a 2CD edition for you who prefer shiny and digital.
The CD edition relies on the old 2011 Legacy Edition mastering, which is pretty faithful to the original issue and doesn’t over-compress things, so no worries there. Disc 2 arrives with a four song BBC session which, by comparison with other BBC sessions, is sadly a little lo-fi, and a collection of demos from the era.
So, let’s now assume that you’re currently suffering from the obvious empty feeling that accompanies not having Draconian Times in your collection…which hallowed version should you be most tempted by?… The vinyl edition sells itself really – if you want the diamond and lacquer experience then you can now have it without shelling out over £100 for a used original copy. The packaging looks great, and without having played the new double LP myself, I’m going to assume that some time and care has been put into the pressing.
The CD edition is a bit more problematic as no matter which version you buy, you’re leaving yourself slightly short of the complete draconian experience. The live material on the 2011 Legacy Edition is more compelling that the BBC tracks we have here, but on the other hand, the fuller list of demos is great on the 25th anniversary version. If you have the capability to experience it properly, then the 2011 Legacy is essential because of the surround sound mix on the DVD which is fantastic (I know it’s a tiny niche product, but I do love my metal in surround!)…oh, and of course there is the double disc Draconian Times MMXI Live set from a decade ago, released on CD and vinyl….wait, but what about the How Soon Is Now cover from the US edition?!… In the absence of an outright winner in this race, I’d say if you’re looking for Draconian Times on CD then buy the new 25th anniversary edition, if only because it’s the best way of making sure your cash is ending up in the hands of the label and the band.
Personally, I’m looking forward to an uber-super-deluxe 40th anniversary edition which will bring together absolutely everything that is great about this album and this phase of Paradise Lost’s career. May I suggest to Music For Nations that life size cardboard cut-outs of the band and a cassette tape of the album would complete the package nicely! Until then, it doesn’t matter which edition you buy, just make sure this classic release of British metal has pride of place in your collection.
Scribed by: David J McLaren