Candlemass - Death magic doom 5/5

Reviewed: 6-12-09


1. If if ever die
2. Hammer of doom
3. The bleeding baroness
4. Demon of the deep
5. House of 1000 voices
6. Dead angel
7. Clouds of dementia
8. My funeral dreams

It is a sad fact of life that by the time most metal acts have reached their 3rd decade of existence, they are well past their creative peak. That's not to say they suck or anything, it's just that their newer efforts never seem quite on par with their classics. There are many reasons why this is so. Perhaps the writers' fire, anger, idealism, and feeling of invincibility are dampened with age, blunting the passion and emotion that form the inspiration for truly great music. Perhaps the distractions and demands of mid-life (family, job, financial responsibility) intrude too heavily on the time needed to compose, rehearse and perform strong material. Perhaps some older bands are doing it for the wrong reasons, angling for a quick cash-in or a nostalgic trip rather than a burning desire to create. Perhaps, also, there's a feeling of staleness, that the experienced musician feels like he's already written all the good riffs, lyrics and melody lines in his arsenal, rendering new songs little more than recycled rehash of what he has already done.

But that's what makes Candlemass such an amazing phenomenon. In 2009, some 23 years after the release of their benchmark CD (at that time, LP) 'Epicus doomicus metallicus', Leif Edling and Company have unleashed a magnum opus that rivals the highest peaks in their impressive discography. Actually, if truth be told, Candlemass are riding a 3 CD winning streak of rarely paralleled proportions in the history of heavy metal. The 2005 's/t' Messiah-fronted reunion CD (sometimes called "the white album" in 'Mass circles) was a stunning statement of vitality and relevance. Their 2007 effort, 'King of the grey islands' ("the black album" in Edling's lexicon) did its predecessor one better, with an earth-shattering vocal performance by newly-recruited doom deity Robert Lowe, a terminally bleak lyrical concept, and a clutch of fantastic, heart-rending songs. As difficult as it is to believe, 'Death magic doom' ups the ante yet again.

A great deal of ink could be spilled documenting what makes 'Death magic doom' so damned good. One could emphasize the inspired individual performances, especially Lowe's superlative singing and southpaw guitarist Lars Johansson's well-conceived, tastefully-executed leadwork. One could point to the impeccable production, toning down the clangy dissonance that some found unappealing on 'King of the grey islands', while maintaining enough grit, grease and dirt to sound organic and alive. One could even gush about the thoughtful little details and clever arrangements, such as the perfectly placed organ in the background at the end of "Demon of the deep", the a capella moments in "If I ever die", or the expertly placed lick in the chorus of "Dead angel".

At the end of the day, however, I credit a pair of factors for the scorched-earth hegemony of 'Death magic doom' over all competitors. One is the simply masterful songwriting of Leif Edling. Each and every one of the 8 proper tunes on display has at least moments of sheer brilliance, whether in a particular bone-crushing riff, a magnificent bridge, an unexpected time change, a dazzling melody, or the like. I won't say these songs are better than the likes of "At the gallows end" or "A sorceror's pledge", but they are certainly more elegant, cerebral and sophisticated. Have you ever heard a doom song that's better than "The bleeding baroness"? Seriously, have you? "My funeral dreams", "If I ever die", and "Hammer of doom" are also bona fide classics of the genre. And if the chorus of "Dead angel" doesn't haunt your soul, then you have no soul. The other element of 'Death magic doom' that makes it so incredible is its diversity and dynamics. Unlike so many other doom CDs, 'Death magic doom' never gets mired in a one-dimensional, midtempo, self-pitying plodding rut for extended periods of time. There are aggressive speedy parts, crushing midtempo bits, and even passages of quiet delicacy. It's not just a matter of pacing either, as the breadth of this CD is also reflected in its emotional range. There are sections of blazing anger, desolate sorrow, haunting fear, twisted dementia, contemplative pathos, and occult mysticism. This range of tempos and emotions is not only felt across the tracks of 'Death magic doom', but also within individual songs. And yet, for all of these shifting sands of tempo and emotion, this CD never feels disjointed, forced or cobbled together. Every piece fits to perfection.

And for those of you who still miss Messiah Marcolin, let me be clear: So do I. But Lowe fits this band like a iron fist in a glove of steel, and delivers a positively spell-binding performance here. Just feel the chills run down your back when he bellows out the lines "When I'm awake I don't recall/What I've been doing there at all/I don't know what I've become/My mind is gone when I'm alone" in "My funeral dreams". No other singer in the world would have pulled this off as well as Lowe. Period. Besides, boycotting 'Death magic doom' in some misguided sense of solidarity for the afroed, Count-Chocula-munching monk would be probably the dumbest decision since Air Force One buzzed the Manhattan skyline for a White House photo op, sending 6 million people into a tizzy of terror.

I've long had a policy of not awarding perfect scores to new CDs that I review, on the theory that a CD cannot be a 5/5 without standing the test of time, which simply cannot be evaluated in the days or weeks after hearing it for the first time. But to give 'Death magic doom' a 4.5 based on this arbitrary criterion would be obstinate and frankly silly. I can't remember the last time a doom CD (or hell, any CD) hit me this hard. Buy or die!




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