(Napalm Records, 2016)
The gods of doom are alive. Sure, they occasionally may be seen vacationing in Bermuda, or hibernating with the mightiest of the metal grizzlies of Alaska. But they are never silenced, and they certainly aren’t dead. Melodic, classical-based doom may never be the highest trending sub-genre of metal, but it unmistakably is one of the most resilient. It is the proverbial Energizer Bunny of metal, albeit a much slower and more melancholy one. In recent years, a few newer bands such as Sorcerer and Pallbearer have been flying the doom flag, the latter act integrating more progressive soundscapes into the mix while retaining the epic feel. If one widens their net to include stoner types of doomy bands, then the listening options appear unlimited, if also decidedly more simplistic and upbeat.
Still, when hardcore doom metal fans consider their options these days, the pickings appear slim. Classic doom bands such as Pentagram, Cirith Ungol, Solitude Aeturnus, and Candlemass all hover amidst the ether of partial activity to utter, barren inactivity. The status of the latter of these acts, the almighty “Epicus” Swedish masters themselves, seems especially shrouded in mystery. Back in 2012, Candlemass concluded a strong three-album run with Solitude Aeturnus’ Robert Lowe manning the vocal duties. With Lowe essentially fired due to live-performance issues, longtime collaborator Mats Levén (ex-Malmsteen, Therion, At Vance) took over as singer for the band’s remaining live dates. Despite rumors that the band was done as a recording entity, Candlemass surprisingly returned last year with one powerful, if tantalizingly short, ep, Death Thy Lover.
f Death Thy Lover turns out to be the band’s swansong, then longtime Candlemass fans can claim some solace in the quality of the four tunes presented here. Founding bassist/main songwriter Leif Edling has trimmed any fat and made these songs all killer and no filler; there’s just plenty of sweeping, epic, glorious doom. All the old-school ‘Mass trademarks are featured aplenty: dynamic riffs ranging from a crunchy, mid-tempo groove to glacial melancholy; tasty, neo-classical shredding from lead axeman Lars Johansson; and some of the most emotive vocal melodies this side of “Samarithan.” Levén shines with his clean and passionate delivery, while also avoiding the overly-wide vibrato that makes Messiah Marcolin (iconic ‘Mass vocalist) an acquired taste for some. Sonically, David Castillo’s production job sounds appropriately beefy without verging into modern, over-compressed territory.
As for the songs themselves, there’s a lot to like, if nothing quite as emotionally moving as “Mourner’s Lament or “Under the Oak.” The opening-and title-track opens with swirling guitar melodies before launching into a rather speedy and crunchy main riff that recalls something from the Tony Martin era of Sabbath. Levén’s vocal melodies are appropriately catchy but not super dismal. Mats “Mappe” Bjorkman’s clean guitar arpeggios in the interlude section set a brief doomy mood before the reprise of the epic chorus: “Death thy lover/in the hollow there’s no other/he’s your only friend/ and he’s watching over you.” This one’s a nice banger, for sure. Next up, “Sleeping Giant” conjures up the sludgy deliberate groove of Masters-era Sabbath, representing nicely the crushing, neck-wrecking aspect of Candlemass. Things crawl to a tortoise-esque, if not quite slothlike, pace for the chorus riff. The harmonized guitar melodies in the middle section embody classic ‘Mass to the max. So far, so good.
Based upon a simple, dirge of a riff and brooding, minor arpeggios, “Sinister and Sweet” delivers a solid dose of the classical ‘Mass doom we all know and love. The guitar work here is perfectly dynamic and effective on this epic track. Closing out the (not-so) extended-play proceedings, “The Goose” at last provides the aforementioned slothlike pace and crushing, palm-muted groove devotees so crave. Featuring Johansson’s hummable leads, this magnificent, monolithic, musical water fowl requires no vocals and few frills to get its sorrowful point across.
‘Tis still the time for ‘Mass, no matter the religious affiliation or day of the week.
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot