If, after watching Spinal Tap, you thought drummers had a bad deal in rock and metal bands, spare a thought for Candlemass singers. Let’s refresh our memories for a second. In what could very well have filled five minutes in a disappearing-up-your-own-arsehole metal-o-mentary the doom legends ditched their last singer in a moment of pique that even to the day makes me cringe with embarrassment. It was an undignified end to a fairly decent run of albums. I’d definitely buy Robert Lowe a beer. But I suppose they had a point – surely even Nigel Tufnel would have balked at reading lyrics to his own band’s songs from a crib sheet tucked in his pocket. On reflection, Lowe may have been an unimaginative choice for Candlemass vocal duties but at least he managed to help deliver the best album they’ve done in 20 years with Death Magic Doom. His performance was towering and that album will be the benchmark by which anything with Mats Levén will be measured unless you’re being really vicious and dreaming…. deeply dreaming back to Nightfall.
Now, look how good I’ve been. One paragraph into a Candlemass review and I’ve only mentioned Nightfall once and not even self-indulgently recalled how that audio tape off my most metal school friend Nathan “Stuntman” Stead became the best album I never owned as a skint school kid in 1987. What I really hope for, however, is something a little different. We know that Leif has it in him to strike out into more experimental territory after the ball-breakingly good first four albums, the woefully underrated From The 13th Sun and his Candlemass-meets-psychedelia trip-fest Krux.
Brushing aside the internet trolls, even the most hardened Messiah-o-phile would have to admit we’ve seen some flashes of brilliance in the past three releases – Of Stars and Smoke, If I Ever Die, and Dancing In The Temple of the Mad Queen Bee. What’s more, Krux-collaborator Levén may well just have the pipes to help in that adventure. After OD-ing on Candlemass and Krux for the past week I’ve come to the conclusion that Levén is more than a match for Robert Lowe. So a bit of power doom mixed with something else would be very welcome after a decade of chasing the same old rainbow. My concern is that, after a couple of spins of Death My Lover (I feel like we missed an opportunity to call the EP Doom Thy Lover there), I’d say we’re off to a bad start – and still awfully close to treading water.
To recap, this is the first new Candlemass material in four years and so something of an historic event. In addition Candlemass hegemon Leif Edling has done what almost seemed inevitable when he sacked Lowe four days before the release of Psalms For The Dead and hauled in Levén as full-time crooner. These are four good tracks – including powerful vocals and solos that remind me of the good old days of Nightfall and Ancient Dreams. The problem is that Death Thy Lover, as decent a track as it is, sounds like an out-take from a Lowe-period album for me to feel excited, and just a little too much like the slightly pedestrian Psalms For The Dead title track. Would it be too much of a conspiracy to say that it sounds almost like Edling is pitching Levén against Lowe? (probably – he has form on that after releasing a Rob Lowe version of Black Dwarf). But I’m sorry to say that this is solid late period Candlemass with a little icing on the cake. Some good tracks and well worth hearing if you’re a fan, but a little too much like a mini B-sides collection.
Let’s hope the guys have bigger ambitions for Levén’s big voice because his involvement is worth stepping things up a little once more. Another Death Magic Doom would be good – more would be better. This could be a new era for Candlemass and one which could help put the Messiah days a little further behind them – not to mention the ugly departure of Lowe. Because Leif & Co are better than just a Psalms For The Dead reprise. So here’s to Candlemass. Because we’ve already seen that this is one band which really could keep its legacy alive rather than singing the same old psalm until the dead turn cold.
(7/10 Reverend Darkstanley)