Candlemass
Sweet Evil Sun

I struggle to think of another band revered with such legendary status as Candlemass has within the pantheons of Heavy Metal, with as strange and unorthodox a journey as theirs over their almost 40 year career. The breakups, reformations and seemingly endless string of cryptic hints at retirement, the rotating lineup of ex-members entering and exiting the fold faster than anyone can reasonably keep up with. Are they solely a live band? Are they back full-time as recording artists? Who would you claim is the band’s definitive front man – and if your answer is Messiah Marcolin (as is my answer, unquestionably) – then why should you or I or anybody care that they’ve brought back Johan Langquist – a guy who was never actually an official member of the band to begin with, even when he sang on Epicus Domicus Metallicus? Who couldn’t even land a gig back with the band following Messiah Marcolin’s departure in 1991, when the band decided to go with the unknown Thomas Vikstrom (now with Therion) instead?

Of course – part of the reason we care, that Candlemass is held in such high regard to begin with, is because they essentially invented the genre of Epic Doom Metal with that seminal record. Never mind that Langquist was never more than a fill-in when called upon by the band over the last three decades, you can’t lend such a massive contribution to the world of metal without creating a certain cult-like following. Still, while that’s all well and good, I don’t think it’s an unfair question to ask – what does a band, even one as influential as Candlemass, still have to offer to the world of metal in 2022? Are they better off living in the past, celebrating the work that made them so revered in the first place? Or is there still room for growth?

Well, when Candlemass officially brought Langquist into the band for 1998’s The Door to Doom, the buzz surrounding the return of the original lineup was somewhat quelled by the fact that the album, while not bad by any stretch, didn’t seem to change the notion that guitarist Lars  Johansson and bassist/chief songwriter Leif Edling had kinda been on autopilot since 2009’s Death Magic Doom. Such is the burden of heavy expectation, right? Also WE GET IT. You guys invented a doom subgenre! Great for you! You don’t see Venom running around forcing “Black Metal” into every other album title. It was a weird sort of posturing that, despite a few decent tracks (I’ll be honest, “Splendor Demon majesty” and “Death’s Wheel” were bangers), felt somewhat like Door to Doom itself – a bit unnecessary.

So here we are again four years later wondering if, maybe, the band has found a little more juice and inspiration so make a bigger impact. To start, I’ll give credit where it’s due – Langquist, as he did on Death Magic Doom, sounds pretty great! Maybe it was more personal reasons that kept the band from making him an official member in the past, who knows, but I’m having a hard time seeing any reason not to have brought him in sooner given his recent performances. Where Messiah gave the band much more of a dramatic flair, Langquist’s vocals lend a much more wildly appealing, straightforward performance that, nonetheless, is as technically impressive as it is impassioned. Think of it as Black Sabbath transitioning from Ronnie James Dio to former Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan – he may not have been quite as captivating as Dio (I mean, who was?) but the difference in vocal delivery did add a sort of refreshing change to the overall sound. Langquist also adds more of a gruff undertone with his vocals, perhaps adding even more to the heft of Lars Johansson and Mappe Bjorkman’s riffs which, as always, are plenty hefty on their own. “Wizard of the Vortex” starts the album with a doozy, a classic doom bruiser dripping with dark, morose intent. It carries some of that grave-like atmosphere that I felt was missing not only on their prior release, but has been missing to some extent from the band’s sound for a while now, setting Sweet Evil Sun off on a really good start.

That genuine feeling of doomy dread doesn’t end there, either. “Black Butterfly” is classic Candlemass through and through, plodding along like a funeral procession, while adding a bit of life with the use of more-than-appropriate organ work to the mix to accentuate the chorus. While the pacing could easily becoming overbearing over the course of the track’s nearly 6 minutes, the band breaks it up really nicely half-way through, first with an excellent change of riff to go along with Johansson’s reliably excellent lead work, and then briefly going double-time to shake off and dust that might have settled to get your blood pumping back at a normal rate. “When Death Sighs” continues the emphasis on that slower, classic doom vibe, bringing in a guest appearance by Avatarium‘s  Jennie-Ann Smith (Avatarium was originally founded by Leif Edling, so I suppose that wasn’t a difficult collaboration to put together), and “Goddess” continues the organ-accented, crypt-loving old school vibes that longtime fans should eat up with glee, with the latter featuring one of the band’s most righteous Heavy Metal riffs and solos they’ve recorded in a while.

And that’s where Sweet Evil Sun really hits its stride – when the band is able to blend the old school doom they helped to create, while embracing the more Heavy Metal leaning riffs they’ve become more known for in recent years. “Angel Battle” may be one of the band’s strongest tracks in some time – a righteous mix of monstrous, lumbering riffs, and pure, epic heavy metal aggression that hits with just about every trick in the band’s bag, including one of Langquist’s best performance since his comeback. “Crucified” pulls off a similar trick, showcasing a band willing to embrace all aspects of the sound they’ve built over nearly 40 years to create a better sense of balance and pacing over the album’s duration. That said, there’s still a couple miscues and nitpicks – “Sweet Evil Sun,” as catchy as it is, seems out of place with the rest of the album, as if the band intentionally wrote the song as a single on its own separate from the rest of the album. It’s not a bad song – like I said, it’s actually pretty dang catchy and will likely worm its way into your head in some capacity – but compared to the rest of the album, it just isn’t quite cutting the mustard. The album’s second single, Scandinavian Gods,” faces a sort of similar issue – not so much in the catchiness department, but moreso in that it also seems to exist sort of on it’s own aside from the rest of the album, incorporating some kinda trippy, strange drum effects to create a sort of synthetic arena rock track. Maybe in that way, the song will work really well in a live setting – but here on recording? It seems self-indulgent and weird.

All that said, I think what Candlemass has created here is a more than worthy addition to their catalog, and certainly an improvement over their previous “original lineup” effort. I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re reinventing themselves or creating something altogether “new,” instead the band seems to simply have found an extra sense of vigor and passion for their art that should make both longtime fans, and whoever’s left yet to discover this legendary act, plenty to latch onto and enjoy. I also appreciate that they didn’t even have a single track on Sweet Evil Sun that included the word “doom” in it, so that’s something!

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Steve K
November 21st, 2022

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