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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Candlemass: Psalms For The Dead


1) Prophet; 2) The Sound Of Dying Demons; 3) Dancing In The Temple (Of The Mad Queen Bee); 4) Waterwitch; 5) The Lights Of Thebe; 6) Psalms For The Dead; 7) The Killing Of The Sun; 8) Siren Song; 9) Black As Time.

Apparently, this album was intended to be the last one for Candlemass: not only did Robert Lowe quit the band six days before it was released, but Edling had explicitly stated that from then on, Candlemass would refrain from making more music (but not from playing it) — the wisest of all possible wise choices for a formulaic heavy metal outfit. That said, I got to give them their due: Psalms For The Dead came out as a much more memorable and enjoyable piece of corny art than Death Magic Doom. It does not happen on every song here, but for at least about half of them I can almost hear the cogs grinding as they try to grope for everything that made their music snappy, and stay away from boring sludge.

The big difference is in the tone: much of the time, they tune their instruments precisely the same way that Iommi did on Master Of Reality, and this provides the riffs with extra earthy buzz, making them writhe and wriggle like hellish serpents. This is not seen on ʽProphetʼ, the some­what misguided opener that is more stoner rock than doom metal; but already ʽThe Sound Of Dying Demonsʼ has that dark psychedelic tonal attack, inherited from ʽIron Manʼ and ʽInto The Voidʼ and supported by otherworldly sound effects. To be honest, I am not at all sure if it is within the capacity of a demon to actually die, but if it is, they make a cool sound when they die: the keyboard accompaniment to Lowe's chanting of the song title sounds like some spooky theme from a Vincent Price movie, and this is exactly what we've been missing last time around — a little bit of Satanic theatricality to return the band to being fun.

Altogether, the record has a lot more occult and magical atmosphere — among its various characters we have The Mad Queen Bee (surrounded by trolls, fays, and even Cyclops!), Rusal­kas (ʽWaterwitchʼ), Sirens, and did I mention the dying demons? They aren't all that different from each other in spirit — ultimately, they all want to feed on your flesh or your soul or both, and the music perfectly reflects that attitude, once again looking back to their early 1970s inspi­rations for support. Sometimes they go way too overboard with this: ʽSiren Songʼ, for what it is worth, is really a musical re-write of Uriah Heep's ʽGypsyʼ, based on the same three-chord riff and even combining it with the same «prog guy going unreasonably insane on the organ» trick, as the band's honored guest, Per Wiberg of Opeth, delivers a lengthy organ solo after you have learned that "the sirens will suck on your soul" (the sirens like to do this to the swirling sounds of the Hammond, you see).

But on ʽWaterwitchʼ, bringing back to life the wah-wah tones of ʽElectric Funeralʼ, they hit it just about right — the riff is adequately fleshed out, and Johansson's soloing is hystrionic without being too complex and flashy; and ʽThe Killing Of The Sunʼ gives us a nice variation on the ʽIron Manʼ riff, while Lowe chants a simple singalong melody as if this were 1970 all over again, and Tony and Ozzy were back here with us, mulling over more crazy ideas of how to combine nursery rhyme-level catchiness with extreme musical brutality. And then there's ʽThe Lights Of Thebeʼ, where the central part, of course, is Robert Lowe screeching "there's evil... evil... EVIL IN MY MIND!" like a diplomated Sith Lord. And then they top it off with ʽBlack As Timeʼ, introduced by a Vincent Price-style narration about how "time frankly doesn't give a shit, and above all... time is BLACK!", and it's... awesome.

I mean, Candlemass are a cheesy band by definition, yes, but Psalms For The Dead, I think, is the first time when they deliberately attempted to spoof their own image a bit, willingly turning into Spinal Tap and just concocting a spooky set of fairy tales for us — and they do this with interesting riffs, cool guitar tones, and catchy refrains, so I have no problem dealing out one last thumbs up here. Again, hardcore old school fans might not see it that way at all, but as far as I see it, the less seriously you are supposed to take a band like this, the more effective it becomes, and I am glad that their last album came out that way — provided it is really their last album, and old boy Messiah Marcolin is not still lurking somewhere out there in the gallery, waiting for a chance to once more saddle this band with his way-too-sincere Mad Monk impersonations.

1 comment:

  1. "a musical re-write"
    I had fun spotting the UH references - including one to Shadows of Grief. Of course the Byron era always has been valued a lot higher by comusicians than by serious reviewers (my favourite: "David Byron is the worst singer in the history of rock'n'roll; fortunately he got the music he deserved".
    It's a nice variation between all the Black Sabbath paraphrases. Not that there is anything wrong with that.