CANDLEMASS: FROM THE 13TH SUN (1999)
1) Droid; 2) Tot; 3) Elephant Star; 4) Blumma Apt; 5) ARX/NG 891; 6) Zog; 7) Galatea; 8) Cyclo-F; 9) Mythos.
«This album is dedicated to the greatest band of all time — Black Sabbath». YOU DON'T SAY! And here I was honestly expecting Candlemass, after all these years of undercover worship, to pay tribute to their one true favorite act — Tiny Tim. Goodbye, nurtured expectations, hello, crushingly disappointing surprise. Who would have guessed?..
Seriously, though, From The 13th Sun is indeed a record that is more than just directly influenced by Black Sabbath — it is a straightforward attempt to make a new Black Sabbath album, before the recently gathered imposter band that included such wannabe Sabbath members as Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward and had the gall to release a live record called Reunion, would have a chance to put out their own product under the sacred name of Black Sabbath. (Fortunately, this cowardly and sacrilegious act would not take place until 2013, giving Candlemass ample time to savor the fruit of their own labors).
With Michael Amott out of the band, replaced by a largely unknown guitarist by the name of Mats Ståhl, the remaining lineup of Dactylis Glomerata get to business like there was no tomorrow. Trying to write riffs like Iommi's, trying (not always, but often) to sing like Ozzy, trying to fully mimick the guitar and bass tones of the classic Sabbath, trying to go for the same loud vs. quiet dynamics — probably the only thing that is stylistically divergent from classic Sabbath is the heavy (but not obnoxious) presence of synthesizers, and even that is not altogether a problem, since Sabbath used keyboards as an essential part of the sound at least since 1973.
Direct references to Sabbath moments can be spotted on almost every track. ʽTotʼ, for instance, begins with the same rain, thunder, and church bells that we know from ʽBlack Sabbathʼ, and has the same alternation of quiet, ominous, tritone-dependent parts and loud, heavy, devilish resolutions with evil-grinning guitar trills (also punctuated by the bell toll). ʽElephant Starʼ chugs along at a beastly pace, alternating choppy riffage with power chords the same way as you have it on ʽSymptom Of The Universeʼ. ʽBlumma Aptʼ is a crude variation on ʽElectric Funeralʼ, and the first part of ʽCyclo-Fʼ is close to the sound of quietly sarcastic blues workouts on the second side of Black Sabbath, like ʽWarningʼ. Or maybe ʽHand Of Doomʼ. There's even a brief drum solo somewhere in there, like ʽRat Saladʼ. Basically, you get the picture.
The most astonishing thing about it all is that somehow, it works — not always, but this is the first time ever when I feel that Edling and his people have really managed to tap into something a bit deeper than their usual theatrical cornball stuff. In fact, I actually enjoy this record quite a bit more than Sabbath's 13, and that is saying something. The key track for me is the next to last one, ʽCyclo-Fʼ, where Flodkvist really gets into the sneery early Ozzy vibe, and then the last four minutes are given over to a slow, almost acid jam with ghostly feedback howls flying back and forth over the slow-trudging dragon monster riff — and then there's a cool, genuinely Sabbath-y moment when the dragon monster eats up all the feedback and emerges loud, fattened up, triumphant, all-encompassing. This is the moment where I have to admit that these guys really get it.
But even apart from that, the overall vibe of the album is successful. Utterly and unashamedly derivative — and, in a way, far more honest than all those «classic» Candlemass albums that pretended to do their own thing while still trapped in the shadow of their superiors. Apparently, all that Edling had to do was abandon his attempts to convince us that he had been doing his own thing, and admit that he had always simply wanted to do exactly the same thing as Tony Iommi. And then there will be ʽElephant Starʼ, which rocks with almost the same power as ʽSymptom Of The Universeʼ, and there will be ʽGalateaʼ, which has some of the most evil guitar tones ever used by mortal man, and there will be ʽARX/NG 891ʼ, which infuses just a tiny bit of Hawkwind and their heavy sci-fi sound into classic Sabbath to good effect, and...
...okay, I do not want to create the impression that From The 13th Sun is some sort of metal masterpiece: its official status as that of an imitative tribute to somebody else objectively prevents it from being hailed as Candlemass' finest hour. But not from getting a thumbs up, because, after all, the main rating criterion is how much I enjoyed the experience, and this experience, honestly, was more fun to me than any previous Candlemass studio album. I think Tony and Ozzy should be proud of this one, even if they had no hand in making it... then again, who knows?