CANDLEMASS: EPICUS DOOMICUS METALLICUS (1986)
1) Solitude; 2) Demon's Gate; 3) Crystal Ball; 4) Black Stone Wielder; 5) Under The Oak; 6) A Sorcerer's Pledge.
I confess that I have never read any interviews with Leif Edling or any other members of Candlemass, let alone any official or unofficial biography of the band — and therefore, I have no idea of how deeply serious they are themselves about their music. But whatever they have to say about it, it would be very hard for me to accept that anybody who names their first album Epicus Doomicus Metallicus could do it without a tongue-in-cheek attitude. Really, this is within the same sphere as «Biggus Dickus» or something like that. And it makes me happy, too, because a solid healthy tongue-in-cheek attitude is the only thing that can save Candlemass from a massive facepalm, all of their historical importance notwithstanding.
Apparently, the entire genre of «doom metal» owes its formalization to the title of Candlemass' debut — and when it appeared, it did sound significantly different from earlier purveyors of the style, such as Saint Vitus and Pentagram. They were one of the first Scandinavian (in this case, Swedish) bands to open up the floodgates for Valhalla-Ragnarök-inspired heavy music, and, like every pioneering outfit, might sound a little crude, unpolished, and naïve in comparison with their followers — much like Black Sabbath, their chief source of inspiration, might also seem in comparison with the general heavy metal scene that followed. But they have their advantages, too, a chief one being driven by the excitement that accompanies trying out a new formula.
A formula it is, of course, as bassist Leif Edling (who writes most of the music) and his pals capitalize on but one aspect of Sabbath — the slow, solemn, earth-shattering brutality of impending doom — and expand it to forty-three minutes of dungeon-crawling music for your paganistic pleasure. Since the songs are slow, they are also long (just six tracks in all), and mood-wise, their goal is always exactly the same, making it understandably hard to come up with separate judgements for individual tracks. Differences include the presence/absence of acoustic intros and interludes; the presence/absence of slightly sped up parts; increased/understated presence of lead guitar; increased/diminished function of the synthesizer (yes, a few tracks are marred by Queensrychian keyboards, but, thankfully, not all of them, and I do believe that the credits do not even include a special listing for keyboards).
Typically, the weakest link in Candlemass is the vocalist: in their minds, the style calls for a pompous screamer rather than a vulnerable-street-guy like Ozzy, but they couldn't lay their hands on anybody of at least Ronnie James Dio caliber, either, so they had to settle for a Tony Martin look-alike instead and go along with Johan Längqvist, a large-piped loudmouth who is trying to deliver the apocalyptic / medievalistic lyrics with as much pathos as his pipes allow him, but also happens to be endowed with below-zero charisma and personality. Unfortunately, there's a lot of the lyrics on the album: were they to simply confine him to singing one opening and one closing verse and then devote the rest of the time to instrumental magic-making, things would get more tolerable and interesting — as it is, he happens to be all over the place, and it's bad.
What is good, then? The riffs. Edling's melodic skills are not directly comparable to Iommi in his prime — there is not a single passage here that would come close to the immediate visionary brilliance of an ʽElectric Funeralʼ or an ʽInto The Voidʼ — but he is still close to a perfect adept of the Iommi textbook, and rhythm guitarist Mats Björkman is able to reproduce that metal-melting, Hell-raising tone that, for some reason, had all but vanished off the Earth's surface after Sabbath's peak years. Meanwhile, lead guitarist Klas Bergwall, although kept amazingly quiet most of the time, occasionally erupts with new-generation metal solos that try to combine old school fluency and melodicity with a more technical, post-Van Halen attitude. The result is an interesting update on the Sabbath sound that is nowhere near as memorable as the original, but does not sound like mere slavish imitation, either.
If only one song needed to be singled out of the overall sludgy mass, I'd probably go for ʽUnder The Oakʼ, which is melodically as close to (slow) thrash metal as they ever get here and, because of that, gets an extra aggressive angle — most of these tunes just growl and grumble under your feet, but the opening riff of ʽUnder The Oakʼ actually snaps at your feet. If it weren't for the necessity to somehow erase the vocal track from the corresponding channel in your brain ("MY HEART! BLEEDING FOR MY RACE!" — don't worry, they actually mean ʽmankindʼ under ʽraceʼ here, there are no traces of Aryan supremacy or anything like that, but it still sounds very, very ridiculous), this would be close to the perfect Candlemass song... unfortunately, since most of the vocals on Candlemass songs are dorky, there is no such thing as a perfect Candlemass song. As for the Iommi-style riffs, the best ones are probably on ʽSolitudeʼ (which is not a cover of the Sabbath tune, but the fact that they have a song by that name is probably not a coincidence) and ʽDemon's Gateʼ, but really, most of these slow sludgy monsters are interchangeable.
For all its alleged importance, still, Epicus is hardly the best possible Candlemass album. For one thing, even if the formula is established here 100%, it suffers from mediocre production values: the drums sound too tinny, and the guitars sound oddly distant, as if they had microphone problems — worse, in fact, than those fifteen-year old Sabbath albums on which they were modeling themselves. Strangely, it may have something to do with the shittiness of Stockholm's studios at the time: Bathory's debut, recorded two years prior to this, suffered from the same problem. Eventually, they'd get it straight, but for now, Epicus Domicus is more like Crapicus Sonicus in certain respects. Oh, and I can't really remember a single song, either, but for that one, I was fully prepared. Just as I was for brilliant lines like "The dawn was to come with the sunrise" and "Cursed be the sun / The women will weep for his fun / In the name of his magic so strong". What I was not prepared for was how oddly «homebrewn», in a way, this whole thing sounds: a problem that would not be overcome for quite some time yet. Still, I guess that the combination of an overall cool sound and historical importance should account for a mild thumbs up, despite production issues, lyrics that make Geezer Butler sound like Keats in comparison, and a vocalist whom I would very gladly "let die in solitude" if he'd only let me. Why shouldn't he? Death is his sanctuary, he seeks it with pleasure, his lifeblood is exhausted anyway...