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Many people cite the (first) departure of notorious diva Messiah Marcolin as the end of "classic" Candlemass, perhaps not realizing that the band released 3 albums in the 1990's, all of which are worth tracking down. This album still featured all of the classic lineup, minus Marcolin of course, but the sound is a somewhat drastic shift from what previous albums sounded like. Some would say that Candlemass departed from their strong Black Sabbath influences, but these people have obviously not listened to Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath. In fact, I would go as far to say that this album is a response to Sabbath's "Headless Cross." The sounds are indeed very similar, and the result is not as bad as one might think.
New vocalist Thomas Vikström is also reminiscent of Tony Martin, perhaps a bit more operatic. He hits some very high notes and overall does an excellent job. Plus he doesn't ruin any of the songs by overusing vibrato like Marcolin did. Lars Johansson really steps it up in the lead guitar department. He fills every song with an extended neo-classical solo and isn't afraid to shred it up either. This is probably his best performance on any Candlemass album.
The guitar riffs are not as heavy or crushing as they were in the past, but they are still excellent. The heaviness is replaced with a catchy quality that make the songs quite memorable, especially in "The Dying Illusion" and "Temple of the Dead." There is also a drastic increase in the presence of keyboards, but thankfully they do not detract from the music for the most part; a notable exception being the keyboards in the intro to "The Ebony Throne" which sound like they come from an episode of Scooby Doo. The epic atmosphere of previous Candlemass albums is still present, culminating in the excellent "Where the Runes Still Speak."
It's hard to find anything wrong with this album. The quality of the songs dips a bit near the end but there is no outright filler. The keyboards are a bit much from time to time, but generally are acceptable. On some versions, there is something called the Sjunger Sigge Furst EP added to the end of the album, which is of no interest to anyone reading this review unless you like hearing covers of Swedish folk songs of the 1950's (trust me you don't). Some versions also include a live DVD on a separate disc and, while hardly essential, still is fun to watch every once in a while. I enjoy listening to Vikström sing the Marcolin songs; he's not half bad, dare I say even surpassing Marcolin at times?
Despite the change in sound, this is still an album that is worth owning. There are some very enjoyable songs on this album and Lars Johansson's outstanding soloing is icing on the cake. Unfortunately, at least in the United States, this album is a bit harder to track down, but it is definitely worth the money. Sadly, the band would break up shortly after this album, and after an Abstrakt Algebra album, Leif Edling would reform Candlemass with a bunch of unknowns before the classic album reunited in the early 2000's.