Sweden’s Candlemass might not have achieved the kind of commercial success in North America that many had hoped they would, but their influence on contemporary metal is undeniable. One of the progenitors of what came to be known as doom metal, the band arrived in the mid-1980s, right on the heels of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Following the leads of such notable NWOBHM bands such as Witchfinder General and Holocaust, as well as American greats St. Vitus and Trouble, Candlemass took the monstrous, monolithic power chords and turgid rhythms of Black Sabbath, and simply cranked up the musical intensity and vocal theatrics. Their 1986 debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, along with having one of the greatest titles in heavy metal history, was a landmark album, its massive, lumbering sound a precursor to such ‘90s bands as My Dying Bride and Cathedral. It was when new singer Messiah Marcolin came into the mix on their second album, though, that Candlemass truly came into its own. With the portly, frizzy-haired Marcolin belting out operatic vocal melodies (while dressed as a monk, might I add), 1987’s Nightfall went on to become an underground classic.
Sadly, the enigmatic Marcolin’s time in Candlemass was short lived, as he stuck around for two more albums and a live recording, before leaving the band in 1990 to form Memento Mori. Candlemass, as any metal band would do, kept on going, and the revolving door of band members went into overdrive, until the only remaining original member would be founding guitarist Leif Edling. Despite all the member turnaround, the band stayed true to its sound, yielding 10 releases over 17 years.
There’s nothing that metal fans love more than reunited “classic lineups” (the most recent case in point: the spring 2005 Anthrax reunion), so there was much rejoicing when all five members from the 1986-90 lineup, including Marcolin, got back together in 2002, resulting in the Doomed For Live live album. After breaking up again in May, 2004, and ironing out their differences a few months later, the much-anticipated Candlemass reunion album was recorded in a scorching ten days.
The new record, the humbly titled Candlemass, is not only a good one, but it’s a comeback album on par with Death Angel’s The Art of Dying a year ago; it’s indeed a small miracle to have this band back recording together, but the new music is of such high quality, it’s a great surprise to many. An astonishing return to form, the new album ranks as one of the best in the band’s catalog, sounding as if the past 14 years had never happened.
Everything that makes Candlemass so enjoyable is present on disc: massive riffs by Edling and Lars Johansson, powerful, disciplined beats by Jan Lindh, and best of all, that phenomenal voice of Marcolin’s. Boasting a powerful voice that bears a strong similarity to Deep Purple great Ian Gillan, hearing Marcolin today reminds us of just how rare this kind of singer is in contemporary metal these days, as classic, power metal vocal melodies seems to be a dying art as the years go by.
Musically, Candlemass follows the same formula, but that’s all we want from a band like this, and they do it with such gusto on this record. “Black Dwarf” is a rare uptempo chugger, a blistering album opener driven by a very catchy riff, as Marcolin sings his heart out about a nasty little dude (“Black lizard in disguise/ Hate fiend on dope… The Black Dwarf!”), while the groovy “Born in a Tank” and the absolutely ferocious “Mars and Volcanoes” continue in the same vein. However, the slower tracks are where this band really excels, and there are no duds whatsoever here. The stately “Seven Silver Keys” blends sinewy guitar melodies with Marcolin’s operatic singing much like Iron Maiden has always done so well, while “Assassin of the Light” and “Copernicus” revisit the darker moments of Nightfall. It’s the majestic “The Day and the Night” that comes closest to stealing the show, first, with the so-dumb-it’s-brilliant line, “Then the dawn reeked of swine like a slut,” and then with the subsequent murky, downtuned march that sounds as if it came straight from Black Sabbath’s Born Again, including a very wicked, brutally heavy breakdown midway through.
There’s a reason why metal reunion albums always sound better than those from other genres: metal is ageless. In a world where the biggest music stars are either barely old enough to vote, or acting far too young for their age, metal is all about attitude and musical proficiency, and as the decades have passed, many artists continue to sound as strong as they did 20 years ago. Count Candlemass among those bands; with Candlemass, these veterans have not only stolen the thunder of bands half their age, they’ve simply drowned out their young rivals completely.