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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Candlemass: King Of The Grey Islands


1) Prologue; 2) Emperor Of The Void; 3) Devil Seed; 4) Of Stars And Smoke; 5) Demonia 6; 6) Destroyer; 7) Man Of Shadows; 8) Clearsight; 9) The Opal City; 10) Embracing The Styx.

Arguably, this album introduces the best thing that has happened to Candlemass since they learned to produce their albums outside of the figurative toilet — lead vocalist Robert Lowe, the former frontman of Solitude Aeturnus, an epic doom metal band from the heart of American Texas (yes, apparently such a thing as Texan doom metal does exist, although it's probably heavily influenced by ZZ Top, I'd imagine). This guy has got all the power of Marcolin without his operatic wailing: style-wise, he is more reminiscent of Dio, balancing the pomp and pretense with an angry snarl that brings the performance closer to earth and agrees far better with the aggressive kick of the music. In fact, sacrilegious as it seems, I actually enjoy the re-recorded versions of ʽSolitudeʼ and ʽAt The Gallows Endʼ, appended as bonus tracks to the digipak edition of the album, far more than the originals!

Add to this that Edling continues to be relatively inspired, with the songwriting level not drop­ping down from the standard of Candlemass even one bit, and you get an album that is just as enjoyable as its predecessor — more so, in fact, if you agree with me on the vocalist (but I think that even big fans of Marcolin grudgingly had to acknowledge Lowe's worthiness; not that Edling ever made any truly big mistakes hiring lead vocalists for the band). Production standards have stabilized, and there are even a few tracks that feature awesome riffs — the best of these probably being in ʽClearsightʼ, which mixes the chugging gallop style with Iommi-like «deep-heavy» bending, creating the impression of a speedy Satanic roller coaster; but stuff like ʽEmperor Of The Voidʼ, with its double-tracked metal / wah-wah guitars spiralling around at frisky tempos, or ʽMan Of Shadowsʼ, does not lag too far behind.

Non-metalheads should not get any false illusions: King Of The Grey Islands is still as stereo­typically formulaic as they come, with each song following more or less the same formula. If your attention span is strong enough to follow the nuances, somewhere in the middle of these songs you might fall upon elements of diversity — for instance, the odd acoustic interlude in the middle of ʽMan Of Shadowsʼ that comes in for only a few seconds to introduce a brief moment of tender sentimentality before the flames of Hell re-ignite once again; or the echoey, near-industrial bass solo in the middle of ʽEmbracing The Styxʼ (a title I keep hearing as "embracing the stiff", which would probably make the song acceptable for Cannibal Corpse's repertoire).

Every now and then, the record creeps up a little too close for comfort to the standards of grunge-metal and nu-metal — and Lowe's delivery may have something to do with this, since, after all, he doth come from the home country of Korn and Limp Bizkit rather than the homeland of the Vikings. But I try to brush those associations away and just keep myself convinced that this is every bit as good as Candlemass, only a little bit better because the vocalist is trying to position himself in the middle of a spooky B-movie rather than that of a Shakesperian tragedy, raising the adequacy level to acceptable heights. This is a healthy, crunchy popcorn formula that they have settled upon here, even if I would personally prefer more numbers like the infectious ʽClearsightʼ and fewer like the draggy ʽOf Stars And Smokeʼ. But they are still formally a «doom» band, aren't they? Thumbs up for making me forget about that for a moment.

1 comment:

  1. "more reminiscent of Dio"
    Plus a bit of Rob Halford on Beyond the Realms of Death, one of the first doom metal songs ever. That's a good thing, because an element of rebellion (rejecting life in this world etc.) gives the music some depth.
    However my main problem with 80's candlemass was the lead guitar - I associate Bergwall's solos with the cheaper power ballads of the decade (and that's meant exactly as insulting as it sounds). Johansson's rather different solos sound much rawer and hence are more appropriate.
    The Prologue has been done a gazillion times before of course and almost always in similar settings, so predictability is high. But yeah, I might buy the album - I prefer it to Chapter VI, my favourite thus far.
    As an old geezer who had lost interest in all pop and rock during the 80's I don't mind sacrilege either of course.