REVIEW: CANDLEMASS – “Sweet Evil Sun”
“Sabbathian” acolytes Candlemass were one of the earliest purveyors of the doom genre. Of the handful of bands that bowed to the power of the monolithic riff in the early 80s, they were perhaps the band that arrived almost fully formed. Their debut record ‘Epicus Doomicus Metallicus,’ was not the genre’s first classic, but it was perhaps its best and was the one that birthed its name. Standing on the shoulders of Iommi and company and their proto-metal contemporaries and building on the precedent set by bands like Cirith Ungol and Pagan Altar, they forged in flames a sound that wed fantastical tales and Old Testament vitriol to plodding, crushingly heavy riffs adorned with operatic vocals.
The departure of original singer Johan Längqvist could have been a career-ender in lesser hands, but bassist and principal songwriter Leif Edling recruited genre-favorite Messiah Marcolin and found greater success on a string of classic albums.
Following the departure of Marcolin at the end of the 80s and after a 3-year hiatus, the band dutifully carried on in various configurations throughout the next 2+ decades. While this period yielded some high-quality music, the band failed to reach its previous commercial and artistic heights.
That all changed with the unlikely return of Längqvist for 2018’s excellent ‘The Door to Doom.’ Recapturing the quality and excitement of the band’s earliest work, the metal masses embraced a reinvigorated Candlemass and gave them the plaudits they deserve.
‘Sweet Evil Sun’, the band’s lucky number 13th record, hammers the sound forged on its predecessor into an even sharper and deadlier weapon. The spectacularly named “Wizards of the Vortex” strings together a collection of dyed-in-the-wool doom riffs, the sum of which barely the surface-level “been there done that” and sound as relevant as ever. Built primarily on a mid-paced groove and accentuated by subtle synths, the song finds Längqvist’s powerful vocals front and center and trading barbs with long-running, fleet-fingered, lead-guitarist Lars Johansson. Featuring excitement-building tempo changes, off-time fills, and classic-doom eighth-note double-kick, it’s a tenacious opening statement that winds down into an almost Queen-esque acoustic outro.
The apocalyptical “Angel Battle ” soundtracks Gutav Diore’s famous painting ‘The Triumph of Christianity Over Paganism’, with a potentially more sinister outcome. The intensity-building dirge of the verses is offset by a fire and brimstone pre-chorus/chorus that finds Längqvist proselytizing of violent end-times teeming with “angels with blood on their swords.” Weathered yet still musical and commanding, the time has been particularly kind to Längqvist’s voice. With career-defining songwriting and the whole band including longtime members rhythm guitarist Mats “Mappe” Björkman and drummer Jan Lindh firing on all cylinders, his vocal performance inhabits these songs in a way that elevates them to even loftier heights.
Returning producer Marcus Jidell (Avatarium, SOEN) wraps tunes like the progressive and anthemic ‘Scandinavian Gods’ and the psychedelic-leaning first single ‘Black Butterfly’ in a sonic blanket that side-steps modern production and pays tribute to the almighty riff.
The ominous send-off of “Goddess” with its deliberate pace, Hammond organ, choral overtones, and remarkable lead-guitar work, is an exercise in doom fundamentals. “Goddess” segues into the short but sweet and humorously entitled instrumental ‘A Cup of Coffin’ reminding us that there’s a healthy sense of humor lurking beneath the hellfire of the band’s sonic maelstrom.
Two records into their storied rebirth with original vocalist Johan Längqvist, on the bombastic ‘Sweet Evil Sun’, Candlemass shows no sign of letting up. “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus” indeed!