CANDLEMASS: ANCIENT DREAMS (1988)
1) Mirror Mirror; 2) A Cry From The Crypt; 3) Darkness In Paradise; 4) Incarnation Of Evil; 5) Bearer Of Pain; 6) Ancient Dreams; 7) The Bells Of Acheron; 8) Epistle No. 81; 9) Black Sabbath Medley.
My reaction to this album will probably show how deeply out of touch I am with professional Metal Mentality. According to most of the metal critics and metal fans, Ancient Dreams is where Candlemass took their first faltering step — in fact, even the band members themselves were allegedly not very happy about it, particularly with the mix of Rex Gisslén, calling it a rushed job and all; meanwhile, fans typically complain of recycled riffs, overcooked vocals, and needlessly stretched out song lengths. A few dissenters here and there, but overall, the consensus seems to be that this is where the Candlemass formula gets a bit «stale».
I even took the trouble to relisten to this back-to-back with Epicus (partially), and all I can say is, well, wasn't the Candlemass formula seriously «stale» from the very beginning? Let's face it, all they did was surgically extract one side of Black Sabbath's personality, zoom it 250%, add operatic vocals and flashy solos, and repeat the same principle on every song. So how come it took them three albums for fans to start taking notice? If anything, I see a slight improvement in production values here — for instance, the drums do not sound quite as cardboardishly-tinny as they did on the first two albums — and perhaps even a few improvements in terms of riffage.
After a brief Gothic-Gregorian introduction, ʽMirror Mirrorʼ opens the album at a slightly faster tempo than usual — and with an attractive alternation of a Sabbath-style roaring riff with a chuggier pattern, trying to marry classic school metal values with the thrash paradigm in a meticulously calculated manner that, in my view, succeeds better than any such attempts on Nightfall. The same principle is then applied to ʽA Cry From The Cryptʼ, except that the chuggy pattern there is quite similar to ʽChildren Of The Graveʼ, while the slow brutal riff shares common chords with ʽSweet Leafʼ, making this one of the most blatant Master Of Reality rip-offs ever — with the exception of the flashy trills of the guitar solo, all Van Halen and Judas Priest in nature.
The rest of the songs are even more non-descript, differing in between themselves only in terms of including faster parts (ʽDarkness In Paradiseʼ) or concentrating exclusively on slowness (ʽAncient Dreamsʼ); by the time the record nears the end, the band begins sounding more and more like contemporary Black Sabbath — the riffage on ʽThe Bells Of Acheronʼ is similar to the kind of sound Iommi had on The Eternal Idol, but I guess you have to catch up with your idols if you are really set on idolizing them. To remedy that, the CD edition adds a sycophantic ʽBlack Sabbath Medleyʼ — consisting of minute-long clips of classic Sabbath covers, converted to the Candlemass sound (with only minor amendments); an intriguing recording, actually, since somehow they manage to make even the classic Sabbath songs sound less exciting — making me wonder if I'd actually be capable of loving an album of Sabbath classics, were I to first hear them all played by Candlemass? Does it really depend that much on the barely noticeable subtleties of the guitar tone? Or is it all because of the unbearably crass operatic singer of theirs?
Anyway, perhaps the real flaw of Ancient Dreams is a total lack of diversity — devoid of brief acoustic interludes, and very monotonous, to the point that, for instance, ʽDarkness In Paradiseʼ opens on pretty much the same looping riff on which the previous song, ʽCry From The Cryptʼ, had only just faded away. But taken individually, each song is still a perfect realization of the Candlemass schtick — you have the big fat doomy riff, the massive sonic attack, the screaming operatic guy, the wailing lead guitar, and the rest is, after all, just subjective judgement.