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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Candlemass: Dactylis Glomerata


1) Wiz; 2) I Still See The Black; 3) Dustflow; 4) Cylinder; 5) Karthago; 6) Abstrakt Sun; 7) Apathy; 8) Lidocain God; 9) Molotov.

I have no idea why Edling would want to name an album after cock's-foot grass (last I heard, it did not have any Satanic associations, so maybe he just accidentally mixed it up with Cannabis sativa), but as long as a bit of refreshing change is introduced, he can call it anything he likes. In fact, the record was not even supposed to be issued in the name of Candlemass — the band had been inactive since 1994, leaving Edling busy with his new project, called Abstrakt Algebra and featuring a seriously different metal brand, one that combined doom and thrash influences with elements of heavy prog and even math-rock (before it was called math-rock). They'd already re­corded their second album when, suddenly, Edling decided to fire all of the band members except for the drummer, recruit new ones, call the revamped band Candlemass, and re-record most of the songs. Because commercial thinking and all that.

This all sounds like a recipe for disaster, but, strange enough, it isn't. Most everywhere you go, you will find a sharp decline in interest on the part of the fans, for obvious reasons. There's a new lead singer (Björn Flodkvist), there's a fully paid keyboard player (Carl Westholm), and the guitar work on the album is handled by none other than Michael Amott, of Carcass and Arch Enemy fame — a solid metal warrior in his own rights, but hardly a great match for the classic slow, dreary, stoned-out Candlemass vibe. (Not sure how well Candlemass and Arch Enemy fans see eye-to-eye, but I wouldn't be surprised to find the two groups largely non-intersecting and accu­sing each other of hyper-ridiculous drama and cheesiness). Anyway, for those interested in doub­ling, tripling, and quadrupling their stocks of Epicus Doomicus clones, none of these elements should look inviting, so people are perfectly within their rights to brand Dactylis Glomerata with a decisive «this is not Candlemass! this is sellout crap!» judgement and walk away.

I like quite a bit of it, though. The vibe on the opening track, ʽWizʼ, and many that follow it, is somewhat less Sabbath-ish, leaning more towards sludgy stoner metal (the kind that would enjoy a luxurious revival in the 21st century) and featuring, in my opinion, more memorable riffs on the whole than any of the «classic» Candlemass records. The new lead singer is as far away from the operatic pomp of Marcolin as possible — belonging rather to the grunge / nu-metal school of ragged-raspy warriors of the light; combined with awful music, it only helps to emphasize its awfulness (Nickelback, etc.), but combined with decent riffs, it is preferable to bullshit pathos. And the keyboard player — I was afraid that the album would be swamped in ugly synth tones, but the keyboard work here is actually cool! Instead of synthesizers, Westholm generally uses the organ, well heard in the mix but never drowning out the guitars; and sometimes, as in the quiet interludes on ʽI Still See The Blackʼ, he thinks up little music-box melodies with spooky over­tones, giving the whole thing a sort of Stephen King-like atmosphere. (The brief instrumental ʽCylinderʼ, made to sound as if it were really recorded on a wax cylinder, is an autonomous example of the same approach). And on ʽDustflowʼ, they even bring in an extra keyboardist to contribute a Theremin part for the intro.

All of these changes, in my mind, are very welcome, even if the final results do not sound like classic Candlemass at all. The average tempo of the record is «mid» rather than «slow», and some of the songs are tremendously tempestuous compared to how it used to be — ʽDustflowʼ, for in­stance, culminates in a sea of guitar overdubs, creating an angry psychedelic spectrum that is more Bardo Pond than Candlemass, with Michael Amott showing off his talents in a way that, for some reason, he could never allow himself in Arch Enemy. Another highlight is ʽAbstrakt Sunʼ, fluctuating from guitar-based walls-of-sound with a martial flair to slower, atmospheric passages where Westholm does shift to synthesizer, but uses it in a pensively Gothic manner, generating dark melancholy rather than plastic synth bliss favored by various average power metal teams. And it all ends with ʽMolotovʼ, a short instrumental based on a thunderous ʽFor Whom The Bell Tollsʼ-style riff adorned with minimalistic lead vibrato lightning bolts — brief and efficient.

Naturally, we're not talking about a masterpiece of music making, but we are talking about an album that has more diversity to it than anything previously issued under the name of Candle­mass, and also one as thoroughly purged of straightforward cheese elements as is technically possible on a heavy metal album (which means there's still plenty of cheese, but nothing as directly embarrassing as the mock-Teutonic bombast of ʽWhere The Runes Still Speakʼ). It's too bad this version of the band did not last, what with Amott going back to his duties with Arch Enemy and the fans' irritating, but predictable displeasure with the new twists — I think the new style had some future to it, if only they'd managed to find a proper fanbase in its time. Anyway, I do give the album a thumbs up in retrospect; hope that helps.

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