“I feel your love, the affinity…I’m glad Your Highness is back!”
The creators of epic doom metal – the subgenre’s answer to power metal, featuring all of the dramatics but played at half the speed (usually) and in a minor key – and having mostly become a live-only band for years, Swedish metal legends Candlemass return in style on their latest album. Bringing back their original singer – previously just a guest musician but now a vital part of the band – Johan Längqvist after three decades of him not being with them, as well as scoring a guest appearance from the Godfather of Doom himself, The Door to Doom is an incredibly strong comeback.
Splendor Demon Majesty starts things off in true doom style with a slow, grand riff before switching to Candlemass’s signature “doom goes power metal” sound, unleashing one of the fastest songs in their discography (which is still slightly above mid-paced by most metal bands’ standards) right away. Bassist and bandleader Leif Edling’s songwriting is on top form here, tying together fast and energetic verses with a surprisingly catchy chorus that makes the most of their (technically) new vocalist’s powerful voice. Längqvist’s vocals have changed massively in the 32 years since he last appeared on a Candlemass record – and for the better, going from overdramatic and theatrical to a majestic and thundering tone that gives the music an even more “epic” atmosphere. Slowing things down to a more typical doom metal pace, Under the Ocean makes its presence felt after a gentle intro with a massive, crushingly heavy beat that sounds as though it’s about to crash down on you with the force of a tsunami before slowing down even further for a tense, slightly psychedelic riff and bridge – along with another wild guitar solo, one of many stand-out ones on the album. Opening with a colossal drum intro that leads into one of the heaviest riffs on the album, Astorolus – The Giant Octopus makes up for its name by featuring a guest solo from one of the creators of doom metal himself – Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, who lets loose for a solid minute and really makes the most of his brief appearance – along with a huge, mighty sounding chorus worthy of the world-devouring sea creature described in the lyrics, backing it with harmonies that sound like an unholy choir and causing it to sound devastingly powerful. By contrast the largely acoustic ballad (?!) Bridge of the Blind is a strange one – taken at face value it would fit on pretty much any modern metal album but here it’s given a sense of depth and solemnity because of the songs around it, Längqvist’s voice meshing in perfectly with the acoustic strums and barely-distorted electric guitar and delivering gloomy lyrics until the solo kicks in – simple as it may be it rivals Iommi’s one from the last one in terms of how much of an impact it leaves, switching out high energy shredding for an emotional performance instead.
Opening the second half Death’s Wheel rolls back and forth between a bouncy, retro-sounding verse and a slow, crushing chorus that both work well as separate parts – but the transition between them is slightly jarring, going from a riff that harks back to the earliest roots of the subgenre to a monstrous, full-scale doom chorus laced with a double bass beat by awkwardly slowing down right before it kicks in. In spite of that the song picks itself up quickly, continuing on into a long and majestic bridge that doubles down on the dark, oppressive sound from the chorus and features one of the best solos on the record. Black Trinity sounds almost as though it could have been an Electric Wizard song to start with, opening with a massively heavy and distorted guitar that feels as though it’s clawing its way out of your speakers before bringing the rest of the band in for a sludgy and gothic stomp – until the song suddenly throws all the focus on Jan Lindh’s drumming, going from loose and largely cymbal-based to a claustrophobic tom beat as everything collapses into a feedback and effects-heavy swamp around him. Previously released on the eponymous EP and having been re-recorded with Längqvist, House of Doom is finally given the energy and power it deserves with a lively rendition that feels like the centrepiece of the album. Storming through another relatively fast beat and a dramatic, over-the-top chorus, the song finally lets loose with a spectacular bridge that sounds as though it’s come straight from Epicus Doomicus Metallus or Nightfall, unleashing a horror movie-like church organ that starts off by doubling up with the guitar before going off into a truly evil sounding solo – and then following it up with an equally brilliant guitar riff and solo straight afterwards, keeping the newly regained energy and passion going for the entire six-and-a-half-minutes without fail. The Omega Circle closes the album with the biggest throwback yet (even more so than the album cover, which is nearly identical to their debut), almost seeming like a sequel to their signature song Solitude with its acoustic intro and Längqvist sounding as though he’s briefly de-aged 30 years for this one small section…and then the rest of the band comes in, introducing a dark and towering monster of a riff as well as nightmarish guitar bends that both truly sum up the phrase “epic doom metal”. The chorus somehow lightens the tone despite the grim lyrics, preventing the song from becoming a slog and giving the album a truly epic closer as it finally gets stripped down to an unaccompanied version of the verse riff…andthe song then fades back in for an effects-heavy, slightly pointless and short coda.
Before the release of what was originally supposed to be their final album, 2012’s Psalms of the Dead, Edling stated that the band wouldn’t split up but “we wanted to stop before we got too old and started putting out half-lame albums”. If The Door to Doom is anything to go by, they’ve got a long time to go until that happens.
Genres… epic doom metal, traditional heavy metal, power metal
Best tracks… Under the Ocean, Astorolus – The Giant Octopus, Bridge of the Blind, House of Doom, The Omega Circle