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It would be really hard for me to give a Candlemass album a poor rating, but I did consider giving 'Ancient Dreams' about 80%. Hopefully, by the end of this review my reasoning will be explained.
However, I'd like to start with the album cover, a copy of Thomas Cole's painting 'Youth'. That cover is a lot for any band to live up to, isn't it? There's a gorgeous, primal countryside with a foreboding mountain lurking at the horizon, above which we can see a temple in the sky - the celestial city. In the foreground is a tiny boat with two figures reaching towards that distant and unearthly emblem, straining to touch the unreachable.
And yet, that scene describes Candlemass so exactly. The band sound, in a completely non-denominational sense, utterly godly as they stretch a musical finger towards the perfect city in the sky that, as we can tell from the fact they are playing doom metal, they know they will never reach. There is a hopeless crushing quality to the music and lyrics that in no way undermines the joyous celebration that those epic riffs seem to create: the vastness of the sound and vision is matched only by the emptiness of the reality, because without that mirage on the cover, it is only a man alone in a boat and without those sublime ideas Candlemass is only five Swedes with instruments and dodgy haircuts (seriously, Google Leif Edling's mullet).
'Ancient Dreams' is not the best Candlemass album, though it might contain the most perfectly realised songs of the band's career. 'Mirror Mirror' is a VERY strong opener, but is superseded three times as the best song on the album. 'Darkness in Paradise' has a wickedly haunting vocal line and the main riff sounds like a salute to angels; 'Bearer of Pain' is lyrically very involving and has a great solo; 'Ancient Dreams' really does sound like the sky opening up and the mysteries of the universe being revealed, even though the theme is concerning the futility of hope and the eternal longing that won't go away. Aside from those exquisite moments there is a good general mixture of signature Candlemass elements. Slower songs are well balanced alongside faster riffs and sections, the leads are usually creative and satisfying and Messiah gives perhaps his best performance with plenty of nuance alongside his famous power.
My complaints, however, are directed at 'Incarnation of Evil' and 'Black Sabbath Medley'. Sad to say but 'Incarnation of Evil' does not really sound like a Candlemass song, nor does it sound like a song by any other band I want to listen to. It's an example of a graet band forgetting what makes them great, as the most bombastic epic doom machine in the world has a crack at subtlety, which isn't what this kind of music is about at all. The performance is flat, too slow and lifeless and the riffs and vocal lines are very forgettable, not to mention the horrible cliche of the lyrics. 'Black Sabbath Medley' is not particularly bad, I just don't find it a helpful addition to this version of the album - I would prefer to just have a copy on disc 2 of the remastered edition alongside the live tracks. Candlemass and Sabbath are very different bands, whatever the debt of influence owed, and those very classic riffs sound horribly out of place after the last rites of the closer.
A few minor points to grumble about might be the slightly flat guitar tone (it attained levels of impeccable crispiness on the following full-length) or the moments that wander in the more generic 'A Cry from the Crypt' or the way that 'The Bells of Acheron' repeats a riff that isn't that interesting. The drums could sound a bit tighter as well, bearing in mind that I'm reviewing the remastered version (actually the Peaceville double CD), but I can't help but feel that these complaints are caused by the utter hugeness of four of the tracks on here, plus the don't-touch-anything beauty of 'Epistle 81'. I do award one bonus point for Leif Edling's description of Milton Keynes (where I currently live) in the liner notes with the apt summary that it's all roundabouts, but "where are the people?"
Now, to explain my actual rating. If those two nasty songs mentioned above were removed from the release (at least from disc 1), 'Ancient Dreams' would contain 7 songs and be 45 minutes long, which is plenty of time for a doom metal album, especially when the songs are as well developed as they are here. Of those 45 minutes, there is ONE other fault that I can find, which is the high note that Messiah hits in the chorus of 'Bearer of Pain', though even that's growing on me. That gets on my tits, but everything else is sublime. Everything else makes me feel like I could touch that castle in the sky.
When you've recorded an album like "Nightfall", the best you can do is split up your band, and spend the rest of your lifetime becoming a legend in eternity. No, I'm kidding of course, but it is only natural that "Ancient Dreams" couldn't possibly match the previous one. It is both natural and acceptable. But that doesn't mean we should underestimate it, right? Like we wouldn't like to underestimate "...And Justice For All" or "Somewhere In Time", because this is the league we're talking about. Absolute Premiership, if you ask me.
So the recipe is well-known, heaviest, most desperate doom, injected with shots of up tempo riffing like rays of light in a gloomy crypt. Three or four ultimate classics reside in here, "Up From The Crypt", "Mirror Mirror", "Darkness In Paradise" and maybe "Incarnation Of Evil" do stand out from the rest-and that's the difference in comparison to "Nightfall" where you just can't make a choice. The rest of the songs in "Ancient Dreams" are great, but not classics. It seems Leif Edling is a guy who just can't compose a bad song, just good, great and classics. But Edling's great is other people's classics and so on. To be honest, most doom metal bands would cut off one of their testicles to have recorded "Ancient Dreams".
So I think you maybe understand my train of thought behind the "90/100". For any, and I mean ANY, other band, this would be a crystal clear perfect 100. In a way, it is deeply unfair that this album is in the shadow of its predecessor. It's so damn heavy, so damn good, so damn well-played and well-produced. The artwork is great, the vocals will make the hair of your back stand like barbed wire, the riffs are like funeral bells in your bedroom, it is a quintessential doom metal album. Don't overlook this one, you will miss a lot. If I had to make a choice, you all know what it would be. But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy "Ancient Dreams" with all my soul, right? There's room in my shelf for both of them (actually, for all Candlemass albums in existence) so it's no big deal anyway.
This is perhaps one of the most overlooked Candlemass albums – like other reviewers have said, most people point you to Epicus Doomicus Metallicus and Nightfall as the two best candlemass albums, however, Ancient Dreams is quite a strong release, and perhaps, dare I say, one of the best doom metal albums ever created.
Of course, doom metal takes a lot of cues from Sabbath – and Candlemass is no exception. The riffing here is similar to any early Sabbath. However, Candlemass takes what Black Sabbath had and expands it. They took what Sabbath had and made it darker, longer, and more epic than anything Sabbath put out. Some of the riffs on this album are downright twisted, and the eerie way Candlemass harmonizes a lot of their song’s main riffs makes them that much more creepy. There are no happy riffs here – every riff on here is sinister and morbid. Imagine wading through tar after a heavy dose of psychedelic drugs, and you get the idea of the riffing on this album. At the same time though, Candlemass manages not only to create significantly creepy riffs they also have those soaring, epic sections that really make the songs on this album, such as near the end of “A Cry From the Crypt”, for the best example. The way Candlemass manages to incorporate these kinds of riffs fluently into their songs is what sets them apart from other doom metal bands, which often end up being too slow and plodding instead of heavy and epic, which is what Candlemass does perfectly. On top of all this they also manage to have many thrashy riffs thrown in, obviously nothing as fast as something off of Bonded by Blood or Darkness Descends, but crushing and heavy. Imagine if Sodom or (early) Slayer got extremely stoned – that’s sorta what some of these riffs would sound like. This kind of riffing is most evident on “Bearer of Pain”, or maybe “Incantation of Evil”. It is also obligatory for a metal album to have guitar solos, and Candlemass does this quite well. The solos on this album are perfectly adapted to the songs – imagine a slowed down Yngwie Malmsteen, but more sophisticated. The whammy bar is not used recklessly here, unlike many bands which relentlessly abuse it.
Now about the vocals of Messiah Marcolin. This guys voice is perfectly suited for Candlemass. His soaring, operatic vocals perfectly compliment the slow, heavy guitars riffs and the slow, crushing drum work. The thing that makes this guy different though is that he has an awesome vibrato – the power in his voice is unmatched, and probably the epitome of doom metal vocals.
The drumming of Jan Lindh is quite simplistic. Definitely not very fast – there is no blast beats or ferocious thrash breaks here. However, that doesn’t make it bad. The drumming matches perfectly with the guitars, and the minimalist approach Jan uses works quite effectively.
The lyrics here are pretty interesting, and are just like the music - dark and sinister. Many of the themes of the lyrics here are fantasy, but with a dark, evil twist, and that gives the listener an impeding sense of doom, and along with the majestically creepy riffs, creates a perfect atmosphere for a metal album, or any album in general, and for 52 minutes you are subjected to some insanely talented songwriting and musicianship, and some of the best doom metal ever.
Overall, I think this is an album that most metal fans can enjoy. It's not too slow, or too fast, but interesting and unique, accessible and easy to listen to, and a true classic in the doom metal genre.
This is one of those albums which helped define my adolescence. It was the first time I'd heard doom. It was the first time songs had actually scared me! This might sound quaint in these days of sicko extremity and blacker-than-thou blackness in blackest of black metal (!) but back in the late 80s, only a handful of bands had the ability to give you the heebie-jeebies in their music. But there was a genuinely eerie quality to Candlemass's songwriting and performances on this album which set the band apart from other purveyors of supposedly evil/Satanic metal. Candlemass eschewed the gore and deliberate attempts to offend that characterized Slayer. They were also less fixated on horror movie theatricality than King Diamond. Candlemass, to me, can be mentioned in the same breath as Celtic Frost in terms of their scariness. But CF were much more radical, leftfield, experimental, avant garde. Candlemass were simpler; more obvious, perhaps.
On Ancient Dreams, they deal with fairly stereotypical lyrical themes of dark fantasy and demons and devils and etc on the whole. But the songs are delivered with such panache, such skill, such emotion and such a fantastic ear for melody that you'll forgive them that. And, anyway, Epistle No 81 is a completely unexpected and unusual song. It's a mourner's lament, a heart-rending ode to mortality which has its origins in the imagination of 18th century Swedish poet Carl Michael Bellman. It's an oft-overlooked doom metal classic. But then, I'd say every single song on the album is a classic in its own right. You'll weep at the crushing, monumental beauty of the riffs the band come up with on song after song. Rifftastic highlights include Darkness in Paradise, Incarnation of Evil, Ancient Dreams and Mirror, Mirror.
Sacrilege though it might be to say it, I actually prefer the Black Sabbath Medley that closes Ancient Dreams to the originals it distils so perfectly! And I haven't even mentioned Messiah Marcolin's phenomenal voice yet! He was truly one of the greatest frontmen metal has ever seen with a highly distinctive sound that is simultaneously so pleasing to the ears and powerful. Wonderful as his performances on the other Candlemass albums might be, Ancient Dreams represents the pinnacle of his career. It is also the band's best work to date.
Most people rate Nightfall and Epicus Doomicus Metallicus as Candlemass's best two albums. But I think Ancient Dreams is just as good in many ways. Better in some ways, actually.
First off, people often say that "A Cry from the Crypt" is a weak song because it sounds vaguely like "At the Gallows' End" from Nightfall. I disagree. It is a great song - pure doom from beginning to end. Even better, it has a really sad and tragic riff at the end, and is the only one of Candlemass's songs that actually makes me feel sad, from their first four albums at least.
Not only that, but this album is pure doom - 52 minutes of it - all eight tracks are proper doom metal tracks. And the final and ninth track, "Black Sabbath Medley", is no worse than the instrumental tracks on Nightfall and Tales of Creation. Those tracks are what prevent Nightfall from being a perfect album, in my opinion. They are filler. Same with Tales of Creation. On the other hand, on "Ancient Dreams" there is no filler, except for Black Sabbath Medley. All eight of the proper tracks are pure doom, and I find all of them to be either very good at the least, or excellent at the best.
Besides the awesome "Mirror, Mirror", which is probably one of their best songs ever, and "A Cry from the Crypt" which I still really like, "Darkness in Paradise" and "Incarnation of Evil" are also fantastic doom metal songs. Darkness in Paradise was supposedly made less good because it had a bad production job, but I don't notice this - it's a great song, probably one of Candlemass's best. Fantastic Solo in the middle. Great words too.
Incarnation of Evil is also great.......very doomy and very evil and scary. Brilliant riffing and creepy words. I don't know why Leif Edling doesn't like this song, I think it's awesome.
Next, "Bearer of Pain" is much faster, almost thrashy at times, and although it isn't as dark and scary as the previous songs, it's a great fantasy based song with good riffs and solos.
The title track, "Ancient Dreams" is a bit on the slow side, but that means it is even doomier. Definitely an interesting dark fantasy tale. A good song anyway.
The last two songs, "The Bells of Acheron" and "Epistle No. 81" are good songs too, the former being fast and semi thrashy, the latter being slow, plodding, and doomy. But both are good.
As for "Black Sabbath Medley" - well, it's Black Sabbath. I find this track to be ok. Certainly, it isn't out of place to have Black Sabbath on a doom metal album.
The other reason why I think this album, along with Nightfall, is actually better than Epicus Doomicus Metallicus in places, is because it has a unified theme, and so does Nightfall. They aren't concept albums - that isn't what I mean. I mean the songs have similar themes, which makes the albums fit together better. On Nightfall, for instance, almost all of the main six songs - four of them - are about death, in one way or another. "The Well of Souls" and "Bewitched" are about demons coming from hell and a person being possessed by the devil, respectively, but other than that, the album has a much more unified theme than Epicus, which was six songs - six great doom metal songs, to be sure - but they were, perhaps, too different from one another lyrically. On Nightfall and Ancient Dreams, this is not so. Ancient Dreams, unlike Nightfall, focuses on dark fantasy, heaven and hell, and demons and devils rather than death, which makes it very mythological and interesting.
Anyway, a great doom album - easily one of the best albums I could recommend to anyone who wants to understand what true doom metal is. Candlemass is epic doom metal, but they are proper and pure doom in every way. And Ancient Dreams is one of the finest pure doom metal albums ever - the biggest reason, besides all of what I have already listed, being that besides the final track, there is no filler whatsoever on it. Pure doom metal.
For people into metal, it’s normal for certain bands to pop into your head when you hear the “Doom Metal.” The first band is usually Black Sabbath, and for the sake of this review, I hope the second band that jumps into your head is Candlemass.
For those (unfortunate) few not familiar with Candlemass, they are a five piece band from Sweden characterized by their thick sludgy epic sound and their insane borderline operatic vocalist.
Some people would say that Candlemass founded their very own genre within a genre, most often referred to as “Epic Power Doom.” Their third full length release, titled Ancient Dreams found them moving further into this genre by establishing more of a stronghold within the doom community.
Not as impressive as their previous album Nightfall, this is still a very strong album
most fans of doom probably aren’t as familiar with Ancient Dreams as they might be with Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, their first full length released in 1986.
All of the elements that fans of doom have come to expect from Candlemass are of course present in this 1988 release. You have the slow crawling to mid-paced tempo, the sweeping arcs of melody laden riffs arranged beautifully to create a very epic appeal to the presentation of the album and a man with the voice needed to get the powerful words and emotions across.
Messiah Marcolin is the name belonging to the voice on this album. With a unique timbre and style of singing, Messiah’s vocal power rivals that of an opera singer. With his incredible range and strong vibrato, he is the epitome of what most power metal vocalists strive to be. While annoying to some, I find that his voice adds something to this album that would be lacking with any other vocalist. “Epistle No. 81” is a perfect example of how versatile his voice really is. The music in this song is what you would expect from Candlemass: dark and somber with excellent deep-pitched vocals in the appropriate places.
Even though this album is pure doom, it excels in variety. Not only do they play in slow motion, most songs are peppered with faster passages as well, and there are also gothic melodic passages as well, if only to keep the listener’s attention, which is fine. Not that they need to do that here. If the music isn’t enough to keep your attention, bassist and chief songwriter Leif Edling has added lyrics that definitely capture the imagination and ears of those listening. The stories of demons, death, darkness and despair should appeal to all fans of the band.
Lead guitarist Lars Johansson is a wonderful soloist and he isn’t afraid to use a variety of techniques in his playing. You get a combination of sludgy slow Sabbath-type riffs and dark melodies delivered with less low end and more beautiful haunting melodies than one might expect from a band in this genre.
To demonstrate the wide variety on this album, you should listen to “Mirror Mirror” and “Bearer of Pain” which are two of the thrashier songs on this album while songs like “Incarnation of Evil” is more slow and plodding.
Ancient Dreams is an album highlighted by memorable choruses, dark melodies and epic compositions all in the seven minute range. While most fans of Candlemass would rate this below Nightfall and Epicus, I have to rate this higher than both. I feel that the vocal arrangements on this album are far more emotional than the two albums before it. This is definitely essential ‘80s metal, especially for those with a soft spot for bands like Solitude Aeturnus and later My Dying Bride.
Also, as an added bonus, there is a wonderful Black Sabbath medley. A little something for everyone, I guess.
All in all, this is definitely a masterpiece of doom. If you’re into doom at all, you’ll be into this album.