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Features Rank and File

Rank and File: Candlemass

Whether you see Candlemass as the leading pioneer of epic doom or just the band with that weird, doughy-faced singer with the wacky dance moves, there’s no denying they’ve made their mark in metal. They are also a band that I personally don’t think can do any wrong; they may have albums that are weaker or obscurer than others but there’s no such thing as a Candlemass album that truly sucks. Much of that consistency can be attributed to bandleader bassist Leif Edling, whose vision has been undeterred despite an endless array of lineup changes.

But just because I think a band is next to godliness doesn’t mean that they are completely flawless. Thus, I am venturing through the eleven full-length studio albums that Candlemass released from 1986 to 2012 to see how they compare to one another.

11) Dactylis Glomerata

Dactylis Glomerata is basically the Seventh Star of Candlemass’s discography. It was originally intended to be the second album by Leif Edling’s Abstrakt Algebra project but label politics forced it to be released under the Candlemass name. While the music is still rooted in doomy riffs, the style is based more on stoner psychedelia than the theatrics that came before. While it makes no sense as a Candlemass album, it is an enjoyable release with strong songs like “I Still See the Black.” It may have even predicted what future Edling projects like Avatarium and Krux would be doing a decade down the road.

Final Grade: B-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkVeGLRSJ5s

10) Psalms for the Dead

In hindsight, it’s pretty obvious that Candlemass was running on fumes on their most recent full-length album. There aren’t any bad songs, but tracks like “The Sound of Dying Demons” and “Waterwitch” feel like repeats of more successful outings. That said, the album does stand out for a more prominent keyboard presence while “The Lights of Thebe” and “The Killing of the Sun” make for solid rockers. Thankfully Leif Edling’s following projects were enough to prove that his creativity hadn’t completely dried up, but it is understandable if he feels that Candlemass has run its course in terms of new full-lengths.

Final Grade: B-

9) From the 13th Sun

As if the Ancient Dreams-era Black Sabbath medley wasn’t enough of a way for Candlemass to highlight their influence, From the 13th Sun is a deliberate homage of the signature Sabbath style. Not only are the riffs incredibly Iommi-esque and the vocals echoing Ozzy’s nasal tone, but “Tot” and “Elephant Star” intentionally mirror the structures of “Black Sabbath” and “Symptom of the Universe” respectively. Thankfully the rips are tasteful and there’s enough spacy Hawkwind keyboard work to keep the album from feeling too one note. It’s a fun listen for fans of the above mentioned bands but it may be too uncanny valley to be anything more than a quirky curiosity.

Final Grade: B

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPGFo7EbOGg

8) Candlemass

When a band releases a self-titled album late in their career, there is always a statement of purpose behind it. This is certainly true of Candlemass’s eighth album as it features the classic lineup’s return, including favorite vocalist Messiah Marcolin, and also sees an epic sound return after a couple psychedelic adventures. The results are pretty great as “Black Dwarf” became a speedy live staple while “Born in a Tank” is a gallop unlike any of their past songs. Unfortunately, an ultra-loud production job keeps “Seven Silver Keys” and “Copernicus” from being as dynamic as they could be while “Spellbreaker” ends up being a little bloated for its own good.

For added fun, check out the version of “Witches” on YouTube with Black Sabbath’s Tony Martin on vocals. I’m happy with the final version with Messiah but boy does this recording make for some serious “what could’ve been” fodder…

Final Grade: A-

7) King of the Grey Islands

The untimely end of the reunion with Messiah proved to be a blessing in disguise as his replacement was vocalist Robert Lowe of Solitude Aeturnus fame. It’s easy to picture everyone’s favorite bewitcher echoing the chorus on “Emperor of the Void” but Lowe makes songs like “Devil Seed” and “Of Stars and Smoke” his own. The dip in the middle may keep it from a truly classic status but it was great to see the band move forward without leaning too much on nostalgia.

Final Grade: A-

6) Ancient Dreams

Ancient Dreams seems to be the forgotten album in Candlemass’s classic era. The band members themselves have said it was rushed, and a couple songs like “Incarnation of Evil” and “Epistle No. 81” do border on filler. But on the flip side, “Mirror Mirror” and “The Bells of Acheron” are amongst the band’s best songs, while others like “A Cry from the Crypt” and “Darkness in Paradise” also prove to be underrated staples. If anything, it’s a really good album that was unfortunately grouped in with three monoliths of the doom genre.

Final Grade: A-

5) Death Magic Doom

Death Magic Doom may not be too stylistically different than the other Lowe-era efforts, but the lineup really hit its highest point here. There is a narrative feel that hadn’t been this prominent since Tales of Creation and structures on tracks like “Demon of the Deep” and “House of 1000 Voices” aim for unorthodox layouts like those on Epicus Doomicus Metallicus while still offering plenty of hooks. It loses a little bit of momentum on the last couple tracks and isn’t as iconic as their best known efforts, but it’s definitely worth checking out for doom fans.

Final Grade: A

4) Chapter VI

Initially blown off due to being the first Candlemass album to not feature Messiah since their debut, it’s fair to say that Chapter VI is a more overlooked album than an outright hated one. It’s a bit more power metal influenced than their first four, but it retains that epic vibe and Thomas Vikstrom proves to be an incredibly capable vocalist. In addition, “Where the Runes Still Speak” is one of the greatest Candlemass songs ever recorded and tracks like “The Dying Illusion” and “Ebony Throne” prove to be enjoyable exercises in epic doom. I may be overhyping the album a bit but you really need to check it out if you haven’t done so.

Final Grade: A

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsWhTfNFP68

3) Nightfall

There’s a reason why Candlemass’s second album is seen by many as their best. In addition to being their first with Messiah on vocals, the songwriting is more straightforward and condensed than that of their debut. It isn’t a dumbed down album by any means, but anthems like “At the Gallows End” and “Bewitched” may be more accessible than the drawn out journeys on yore. It also helps that there’s an actual lineup behind this album, resulting in much tighter musicianship. The random instrumental interludes keep it from reaching perfection in my eyes, but it deserves every bit of praise it gets.

Final Grade: A

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyKi2I0m08w

2) Tales of Creation

It’s clear that Tales of Creation was intended to be the band’s masterpiece. Edling had versions of these songs floating around before even the earliest Candlemass demos, and the concept is clearly a personal one, even if I have no idea what the actual narrative is about. While the band has deemed the album pretentious, I find it to be just about flawless. Songs like “Dark Reflections” and “Somewhere in Nowhere” are excellent tracks, the narrative interludes flow surprisingly well, and “Into the Unfathomed Tower” is a stunning shred exercise that no other doom band at the time could’ve pulled off. My only nitpick is the rather inferior re-recording of “Under the Oak,” but even that is far from a deal breaker.

Final Grade: A

1) Epicus Doomicus Metallicus

Candlemass could barely be called a band when they debuted with Epicus Doomicus Metallicus in 1986. Lineups seemed to consist of whoever Leif Edling could cobble together for recording sessions. Vocalist Johan Langquist and lead guitarist Klas Bergwall weren’t even actual members; despite their contributions being some of the most iconic in doom history, the two performed on the album as session musicians. With this in mind, the album is even more impressive than it already was.

The album goes at a constantly lumbering pace and the lyrics on signature song “Solitude” are quite nihilistic for the time, to say nothing of the labyrinthine structures on “Demons Gate” or “A Sorcerer’s Pledge.” Edling certainly deserves props for providing such a steady vision, but the album would’ve fallen flat on its own without the other performers’ clear talent and enthusiasm for the material. I’m glad that this shaky lineup is what led to favorites like Messiah and guitarist Lars Johansson coming aboard, but the fact that Langquist in particular was never to be featured on such a high profile album again is absolutely criminal.

Final Grade: A+

 

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