The Burning Haloby Draconian
By 2006, goth/death/doom ensemble Draconian had two critically acclaimed albums under their metal-studded belts, and nearly a dozen years of experience overall (most of it spent shopping demo after demo to record companies in the late '90s), but they weren't quite ready to produce an entire album's worth of new songs. So the Swedish septet decided to make a small compromise with their next release for Napalm Records, The Burning Halo, by recording three brand new tracks, re-recording three more from their 1999 demo, The Closed Eyes of Paradise, and rounding everything out with a pair of covers. Luckily, the resulting patchwork still made for a very convincing, nearly seamless proper album, thanks to the band's deep stores of inspiration, super-sized song-lengths, and the quality of their unused back catalog. The dramatically titled "She Dies" gets the ball rolling in fittingly depressing fashion, via laconic harmonies, gradually unfurling heavier guitar crunch, sweeping keyboards, delicate piano, and the "beauty and the beast' interchange between vocalists Lisa Johansson and Anders Jacobsson. Along with subsequent behemoths "Through Infectious Waters" and "The Dying" (both more dynamically varied), its power lies not only in these sharp contrasts of dark and light, but also Draconian's uncommon ability for draping luxurious orchestrations over such coarse death metal granite. The same is true for the trio of reworked older gems that follow, including the comparatively speedy and concise highlight "Serenade of Sorrow" (just five minutes!), the especially surprising "The Morningstar" (featuring a frenzied blast-beat passage), and the mold-breaking "The Gothic Embrace," which piles on some electronic beats and spoken vocals from Jacobsson. The album wraps up with two covers: the first being a stylistically suitable cover by obscure band Ekseption called "On Sunday They Will Kill the World" and the second a decidedly misplaced romp through Pentagram's "Forever My Queen," which, if nothing else, sees Draconian fulfilling their doom community service. That final sore thumb notwithstanding, though, The Burning Halo rolls so incredibly smoothly that many listeners may not even realize its mixed and matched origins, and therein lies its unexpected triumph.
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Doom metal fans take note, this is a defining work. Especially good is the re-imagining of Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C# Minor. Overall very solid.