CANDLEMASS – Psalms For The Dead

Swedish Doom Metal veterans CANDLEMASS (founded in 1984) have recently released their last studio album, aptly titled “Psalms For The Dead”. After this, no more CANDLEMASS tunes. Allow me to write a little text of how I got to know about this great band, even though I’m not their number one fan or have everything they ever released. It was back in the early 1990s, when CDs weren’t yet as widespread as they would be the years after. We, in the area where I live, would exchange cassettes and one of those had the album “Ancient Dreams” (1988) on it. “Mirror, Mirror” will always be the track that got me into CANDLEMASS. The sound, Messiah Marcolin’s voice, … To me he is the voice of CANDLEMASS, even if other people may prefer Johan Längquist, who sang on the band’s debut and classic “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus”.

At the same time I also found out about the other veteran Doom Metal band, but from the USA: SOLITUDE AETURNUS, which is another of my favourites. Same story here, though, I’m not their number one fan. In fact, I’m of no band a number one fan, as I like so many bands (from various Metal genres) and their music. Anyway, CANDLEMASS got out of the picture then, as METALLICA dominated it. Later on Power Metal followed (STRATOVARIUS, HAMMERFALL, LABYRINTH, RHAPSODY and many more), and so my taste expanded. CANDLEMASS’s albums after “Tales Of Creation” (1989) were not really my cup of tea, though “Chapter VI” does have some good songs on it. I added the band’s first few albums (“Epicus Doomicus Metallicus”, “Nightfall”, “Ancient Dreams” and “Tales Of Creation”) and eventually “Chapter VI” as well several years ago, when they were re-released in/around 2001.

The classic line-up came back together in 2001 and released the self-titled album with white cover in 2005. Of course, I was happy with that news, bought the album instantly. But as good as it was by itself, it didn’t give me the same feelings as the old albums. Logical somehow, as modern technology, taste, etc… now played a significant role. CANDLEMASS showed, however, they were back. Not that long after the release, Messiah and the rest of the band parted ways (again). Who else to replace him but SOLITUDE AETURNUS frontman Robert Lowe? Sure, there could have been Thomas Vikström or Mats Levén, who has previous experience in CANDLEMASS. Robert’s debut, “King Of The Grey Islands” (2007) was a good album, but nothing more, in my (humble) opinion. The songs were heavy enough, groovier even. But overall, it’s not something I would play a few times in a row, contrary to older material. That same year the DVD “20 Year Anniversay Party” came out, featuring the band live at work and vocals done by the ex-CANDLEMASS vocalists (except Messiah), of course Robert Lowe, and guests like Mikael Åkerfeldt, Tony Martin and Janne Christoffersson.

The second album Robert sang on, “Death Magic Doom” (2009) was better. Overall, songwise, soundwise, … Last but not least there is then the band’s final studio album, released in early June this year: “Psalms For The Dead”. The album contains nine tracks, totalling a playtime of a good 50 minutes. Will they call it a day with a bang? Does the band stop at a high? Robert Lowe left the band not long after the release – the band stated this was due to poor live performances – and was replaced by Mats Levén for the coming gigs. Maybe Robert felt a bit homesick, longing to return to his Doom home aka SOLITUDE AETURNUS? Anyway, that aside, how does the new album sound?

“Prophet” is the first track. It sets in directly with heavy, grooving guitar work and a backing organ. The music sounds like old, classic CANDLEMASS, but I heard similarities with e.g. BLACK SABBATH (or the HEAVEN AND HELL version). And that’s just the intro. The verses follow with a bit more power. The organ remains present. Robert Lowe’s singin is good and inline with the music, but somehow I noticed a bit of fatigue. Or is it my ears? The Doom is powerful, pounding and dark and the organ does help from a melodic stance, making things grander, fuller. The pace increases before halfway, the music being more straight-forward and atmospheric. The solo was not forgotten in this track. As the song began slow, so it ends. All in all, a very good job by the Swedes.

“The Sound Of Dying Demons” is next, beginning with the toms, carrying on when the guitars are added. The pace is slow, as you may imagine. Clean, atmospheric verses, devoid of Metal, contrast with the powerful chorus where the Metal comes bursting in. It’s a catchy chorus, by the way. Slow, yes, and Doomy, but with melodic input from the keyboards to add a spooky effect. The faster outbreak for the solo can be described as old school Heavy Metal. After that, the song starts all over again: toms, slow Doom Metal, on to the simple chorus. Nevertheless, CANDLEMASS are still on a good track. And from the demons we go “Dancing In The Temple (Of The Mad Queen Bee)”. The song starts slowly, in a building fashion after which the the take off occurs at midtempo, the organ again in a supporting role. Things slow down in the chorus, but for the solos the pedal is pushed back down. The organ even gets its moment of fame at some point in the second half of the song, which is where the musical talk is greatest. All in all a good song, but not like the previous ones.

Another not-so-attractive song is “Waterwitch”. A typical CANDLEMASS track with heavy, grooving guitars. Here too the verses are devoid of Metal and sound very calm, while the power of Doom is reserved for the chorus. The solo is backed by firmer drumming. Overall, the rhythms are very catchy, though, which is of course good. And like the “Demons” song, this track also starts all over again at some point: the heavy wah-wah groove, calm verses, organ-backed chorus (where Doom reigns), … “The Lights Of Thebe” is another highligh. Here you get spacey keyboards, almost like on AYREON’s album “Into The Electric Castle”. There’s the right atmosphere, a feeling of darkness, of mystery. And then the expected Doom Metal falls in… bringing with it the everpresent organ. Didn’t they overuse this instrument on this album? Compared to the verses, which are good, the chorus is quite simple. That disappoints me, really. As if the band didn’t want to bother anymore for their last studio album. The solo is atmospheric, also thanks to the organ and symphonic elements. So no complaints here.

This brings us to the title track. A direct start of CANDLE-Doom and with the organ in the back, again. The clean verses (vocals and organ) contrast with the Metal-filled chorus, which sounds very accessible. Robert’s vocals lack passion, however, as if was getting tired of being in CANDLEMASS or doing the recordings. Maybe he wasn’t, but I get that impression. The middle section is firmer, musically, and has a wild solo. All for the better, to be honest. And then it’s back to business of before and another solo round. Still, all things considered, this is a good song. So is “The Killing Of The Sun”, where the drums again set in the song with a simple piece. Heavy guitars fall in with a catchy rhythm while the drums carry on. This almost makes me feel sorry for Jan Lindh, since he’s stuck in that one pattern. I do like the clean, Jazzy bridge. All in all, another decent song.

“Siren Song” begins with an electric wave, like a helicopter coming in or something. This rises in volume and when the Doom is activated, the organ is more in the front than before. Robert’s singing is more passionate this time. And yes, finally!! The organ solo!! I’ve been waiting a long time for it (notice the sarcasm). Anyway, it’s a good one. All the while, however, the Doom Metal remains invariable, making it sound rather boring. But, the bass solves that little problem for a short while. And then it’s chorus time again and so on until the end. Not a super song, but nothing bad either. Last and certainly not least there’s “Black As Time”. Starting with a ticking clock and a speech about time and the concept of time. I like how it’s done in vein of AYREON’s “Into The Electric Castle” album. Pounding, wild Doom then follows with a passionate Robert Lowe. The chorus is slow, though, and yes, contains the organ for a last time. The bass gets another moment of glory before the solo. Electronic/atmosphere touches (like a few songs ago) are back, and the organ is more prominent. The speech is held one more time before it’s back to Doom business.

After 28 years (or 26 if you start counting from 1986’s “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus”), the veteran Doom Metal band CANDLEMASS released its final studio album and it’s called “Psalms For The Dead”. Musically it’s a return to their old material, but if you’re a fan of DIO, of the Dio-era BLACK SABBATH (or HEAVEN AND HELL) then this is also a release for you. Although the Swedes made a very decent album, I found the song a little too simple. Yes, Doom Metal is not as advanced or technical as Death, Thrash, Power, Progressive and so on, but still… And yes, the CANDLEMASS of the first four albums is no more. Then again, it doesn’t happen very often that bands, late in their career, make albums as good as their first few, since people change, tastes change and so on. And what’s with the organ? Related to the album title? Psalms…church…organ? Long story short: by itself, “Psalms For The Dead” is a good album, no question about that. But the band have put out better stuff in the past. I.o.w., it’s a good ending, but not a grand one.

 

Tracklist:

  1. Prophet
  2. The Sound Of Dying Demons
  3. Dancing In The Temple (Of The Mad Queen Bee)
  4. Waterwitch
  5. The Lights Of Thebe
  6. Psalms For The Dead
  7. The Killing Of The Sun
  8. Siren Song
  9. Black As Time

 

Line-up:
Robert Lowe – vocals
Mats Björkman – guitar
Lars Johansson – guitar
Leif Edling – bass
Jan Lindh – drums