CANDLEMASS: CHAPTER VI (1992)
1) Dying Illusion; 2) Julie Laughs No More; 3) Where The Runes Still Speak; 4) Ebony Throne; 5) Temple Of The Dead; 6) Aftermath; 7) Black Eyes; 8) End Of Pain.
It seems to me that standard critical reaction to Candlemass albums follows a pretty simple block diagram, consisting of just one question — «Was there any bad shit going on with the band at the time of recording?» — and, depending on yes or no, the album is judged as good or bad. With Chapter VI, there was most definitely some bad shit going on: after some dispute with Marcolin whose details I am not interested in, Messiah left the band (or should the correct phrasing be «ascended away from the band», in this case?) and was replaced by Thomas Vikström, another relative newcomer to the world of metal — who lasted for only this one album. And since this was not perceived as an obvious change for the better, many people bypassed alternate logical choices and declared this as an obvious change for the worst.
As in the case of Ancient Dreams, I desperately fail to see what is so clearly wrong with Chapter VI. First, the new vocalist is in no way inferior to Marcolin. Technically, he can hit all the right notes, he can growl and scream, and his overtones fit right in with the band's music. Substantially, it's all just overblown metal theater, and it's not like either of them are expected to genuinely awaken your sleeping emotions and bring out your undercover instincts — but here, too, I will say that at least Vikström has a bit of that snarly rasp in his voice that brings him closer to «metal punk» Dio or Bruce Dickinson territory: at his best, he is less of a pompous operatic screamer than Marcolin and more of a brutal warrior type, even though you'd probably expect the opposite, given his origins (apparently, he is the son of a real Swedish opera singer).
More importantly, Chapter VI is generally faster than all previous Candlemass albums. There is a bit more thrash and power metal vibe here than usual, which is one reason why it might not appeal to serious doom metal aficionados. ʽDying Illusionʼ, after a brief atmospheric intro, opens with the same flying punch as Sabbath's ʽNeon Knightsʼ (perhaps, given the arrival of a new lead singer, they also felt the need to switch from an Ozzy-like Master Of Reality vibe to a Dio-like Heaven And Hell vibe?), and is a pretty impressive song on the whole, with numerous time and tempo changes, going from speed metal madness to funeral march and back in a surprisingly smooth and credible manner. It definitely does not sound like an Epicus-style track — but so much for the better, I'd say.
Elsewhere, there are quite a few decent riffs as well, such as the ones that open ʽEbony Throneʼ, ʽBlack Eyesʼ, and ʽEnd Of Painʼ — a bit more complex than usual, a bit less crazy about sounding like the Hand Of Doom closing in on you, more intent on simply sounding menacing and foreboding in a somewhat more abstract manner. Actually, I would say that it is the most traditional Candlemass-style songs that suck the most on here, a particular nadir being ʽWhere The Runes Still Speakʼ — now that is one truly miserable ode to the magical mysteries of their mythical Teutonic past; nothing but a leaden guitar tone churning out the same repetitive slow chords over and over, and tons and tons of overblown mock-Wagnerian sentimentality. ʽTemple Of The Deadʼ, another lengthy epic, is at least marginally better due to a faster tempo and a more agile and complex riff; however, the overall rule of thumb here is that the shorter the song is, the more chances it has at being successful.
It's not as if I insist that the album deserves a thumbs up, but I think it will appeal to all those who really really really love their metal riffage, and I certainly disagree with all those who accuse Chapter VI of low energy or lack of inspiration (one could certainly accuse Candlemass in toto of a lack of inspiration — or, at least, originality — but not of low energy). Certainly not the worst chapter in their history, even if, at the time, so many people believed this, apparently, that the band had no choice but to break up soon afterwards.