A passion project like no other, composer and artist Paul Zambrano’s conceptual deep-dive Death Is Beautiful proves an incomparable and wholly immersive audio experience – one which stands out this year for the sheer artistic and emotional power it presents.
Death Is Beautiful is something of an instrumental audio-book, a tale told from start to finish – that of Liam’s quiet love for Laila, and the ultimately tumultuous journey he experiences following her death.
From piano-led beginnings, the melody and subtle vintage crackle of a simple yet intriguing SERENADELAST sets the mood, gets the mind and body in tune and contemplating. We’re then thrown into an immediately overwhelming, multi-layered classical ambiance, as FUNERAL storms through with strings and rhythm and weight and intensity. The journey here feels decidedly story-like, complete with scenes and changes in tone and feeling.
A breathtaking piece of music that’s easily worth a re-listen the very second it comes to an end. However – the project Death Is Beautiful is a tale in full, from start to finish, so to follow these chapters along in succession is where the real escapism lies.
Melancholy and calm return with hints of rising anticipation for a hauntingly peaceful SLEEPLESS. Then LUCID briefly injects a joyful, classic cinema-style mood, before evolving into darker depths that stir and unsettle. Zambrano’s use of detail here, not merely the standard instrumental, helps build something truly cinematic and engaging. The finer dashes of rhythm act like a racing pulse or cracks appearing in the foundations.
SPIRITLAND follows on and reignites the score-esque aura from Zambrano’s previous work Slipping Into Darkness. The mind wanders, the pages turn fast and the scenes flash through the room with vividly chaotic beauty.
FOREST is equally complex and multi-layered, a little different in itself as our protagonist wanders away from one fear and into the next –
…Liam falls into an enchanted forest, and wanders aimlessly through the woods, with the only guide being a haunting voice, a voice similar to Laila’s. As he gets closer the ground begins to shake, craters form, and the forest crumbles. He runs faster and faster, only to fall down to his death. Suddenly, he wakes up from the dream, ending up right back at his bedside.
We then get a piano-piece entitled INTERMISSION, a somewhat minimalist break from the fullness elsewhere, and a moment to appreciate the raw and real sound of the keys and the live performance.
Afterwards, MEMORY proves delicately heart-breaking, and provokes thoughts of how we sometimes interchange our memories for fantasies – confusing daydreams with reality.
FAIRYTALE follows with a bold use of contrast between weight and softness as they intermittently stab at the air around you – the mystery, the unknown, the possibility, the fear. This composition progresses in a stunning manner – the detail again, and the passion with which each section is performed.
REALITY is then perhaps the most striking, dramatic and unsettling piece of all. The confusion and horror of mistaking the real world for an imaginary one, the need to escape – the use of heroin as a means for doing so. An uncomfortable and anxiety-ridden listen – perfectly well-designed considering the events that unfold at this time.
I’m aware of the potential to ruin or ‘spoil’ the story for new listeners. The project Death Is Beautiful is both fascinating and illuminating, in short – at times loaded with sadness (Her, in particular), at other times presenting a genuine state of inescapable fear. And sometimes, the music is simply majestic and unforgettable – FAREWELL features a sensational post-nine-minute arrangement, build-up and climax. To listen in full, and at volume, seems the way to truly fall into this other realm for a while.
As the story comes to an end, there are metaphorical aspects to consider and perhaps to allow for a different experience the second time around. Once you know the progression, the music hits with even greater impact – thus making this a fairly timeless and, as suggested, incomparable project, with an intensely all-consuming musicality that’s truly breathtaking to experience.
“I really wanted to push my boundaries of what I can do with a 100% in-the-box project, as I unfortunately could not afford live players, so did my best to make it convincing… I hope I did that!” – Paul Zambrano.
It’s an honor to have such a composer at work amidst our generation. Zambrano’s exploration of precisely why Death Is Beautiful throughout this concept album, is undeniably worth delving into.