With an ominous rushing sound, the first album of new material from the classic CANDLEMASS lineup in 16 years roars into the spotlight. As opening statements go, they don't get much more kickass than "Black Dwarf" — cranking along at what for CANDLEMASS is practically thrash speeds. This midtempo rocker may put off people expecting the band's trademark late '80s doom-dancing stomp, but fear not — there's plenty of the slow and bombastic in the tracks ahead.
The modern reincarnation of the band — beset by personality conflicts and breakups left and right — seems determined to rock out a bit more this time around, however. Even a stately number like "Seven Silver Keys" has a bit more of a groove to it than their classics. Riffs like the opener to "Assassin of Light" should keep happy any diehards worrying about too much change, though — even with a little more pep to 'em, CANDLEMASS create epic, riff-driven walls of doomy death rock, overlaid with the operatic, vibrato-happy proclamations of Messiah Marcolin (he of the formerly frizzy hair, monk's robe and endearingly dorky onstage doom stomp).
This rejuvenation I'm talking about has done what I didn't think possible. CANDLEMASS still has that timeless, massive sound, doom metal majesty dripping from every inimitable note. But they've somehow modernized that sound, given it a fresh coat of studio gloss and made it sonically able to compete with the new school of bands. Marcolin sounds just the slightest bit rougher to these ears (and it could just be my straining too hard to hear some sign of age), but when he belts it out, it still sends shivers down the spine (or, for the unimpressed, causes gales of laughter, this band always having been a real "love it or hate it" prospect). For better or worse, Marcolin simply is CANDLEMASS to a lot of people, bassist/songwriter Leif Edling be damned, a slew of decent-to-great records with other lineups in the 1990s all but forgotten.
Biggest highlight: "Copernicus", which starts off all spooky and slow, Marcolin sounding almost humble for a moment, before launching into a classic CANDLEMASS riff at a funereal pace that'll have shaggy heads banging in doom dungeons everywhere. When it segues into instrumental "The Man Who Fell To Earth", the spirit of Iommi surges through the riffs and guitar harmonies, and all is definitely right in the doom world. "The Day and the Night" will satiate anyone looking for an unadulterated dose of '80s-style CANDLEMASS at a lugubrious crawl. And "Spellbreaker" adds a touch of keyboards and some slightly more complex guitar work, with a section that wouldn't be out of place (cue the panic attacks from doom purists) a black metal record, if not for Marcolin's voice!
I expect "Candlemass", the album, to galvanize most of the band's cult following, while alienating a few who wouldn't have been happy with anything less than a re-recording of "Ancient Dreams". For them, the faster pace of "Black Dwarf" and "Born In a Tank" will be blasphemy, the slightly progressive bent of "Spellbreaker" a sellout of the band's foggy-castle vibe. Don't believe it — this is prime metal right here, great atmosphere and urgent songwriting from one of those bands that, whether the members can get along or not, create a chemistry when together that's greater than the sum of its parts. Let's hope for at least a good round of touring, and the possibility that this doomed world could yet be graced with more new masterpieces from this still-underrated band.