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After the departure of Messiah nobody wanted to pay attention to Candlemass anymore. The fan-base had always in mind that without the "fat-guy" Candlemass could not exist. They were wrong! I can't refuse that Messiah is the best singer they had ever had, but this doesn't mean that Thomas Vikstrom had no value. He is really a very good singer with a rather power metal/heavy (not operatic) voice which is different to that of Messiah, but it is still great and technically perfect. He has also a lot of passion and emotion to support the difficult task to wear Messiah's shoes.
Apart from the new singer, another new element is the addition of few keyboards that wisely serve the band's purpose to create atmosphere. The rest of the players (the classic line-up of musicians, with only Messiah out) are well-known for their good chemistry, so they didn't disappoint me. The group's direction remains epic doom, but with a bit more emphasis to the word "epic", than "doom". The lyrics are about mythology (mostly pagan, not only christian!) or romantic metal themes with nostalgia about the thrills of the past, or insecurity for humanity's future.
There are times that you can find some power metal influences, without sacrificing the band's gloomy, dark and doom image. It is not only about songwriting (this record had first been written for Messiah's voice), but mostly about the singer's vocal style.
If it hadn't been for the band's past with Messiah, this album would have been considered a classic. It has everything: killer riffs, strong songwriting, a nice singer who suffered the Messiah-syndrome of both fans and critics and a very good production that offers us the possibility to enjoy all players giving the 100% of their efforts.
The band was also willing to step forward. And suprisingly they did it! They nearly abandoned the christian themes, embracing pagan romanticism, they became more atmospheric, the whole concept makes you feel that you are part of an epic story of the past travelling in time (especially in tracks such as "Where the runes still speak", or "Temple of the dead"), being at the same time darker than ever (though less dynamic), they added keyboards...
The similarities between this album and the previous stuff are not so many, but suprisingly it remains Candlemass, thanks to the musicians who remain the same and in good shape. Only after Lars' and Mappe's departure the Candlemass sound becomes unrecognisable, until their return.
Conclusion: Be open-minded and you will realise that it's a KILLER!