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More obligatory than essential. - 80%

hells_unicorn, May 18th, 2009

Candlemass have essentially become the standard insofar as slowed down, dark and woeful epic metal is concerned. Mostly sticking to slower tempos, and drawing from the more melodic aspects of Sabbath’s pioneering work in the mid 70s, they’ve had a keen sense of what ideas can be stretched out and repeated while avoiding the boredom that can come from droning music. Although the band has stayed fairly consistent throughout their more than 2 decades worth of musical output, there has been an evolution in the character of their sound that is on full display throughout this entire compilation.

“Essential Doom” takes the road that most purist followers of the band would prefer, sticking only to the Messiah era and a few obligatory selections from their pioneering debut. This has the dual effect of basically limiting the scope of what is already a fairly strict format and gives the impression that the band hasn’t done a whole lot between 1990 and 2003. It’s a bit unfortunate considering that the two albums that were done without Messiah in the 1990s were very good and in keeping with the traditions established by the band in the 80s, yet on another level it is somewhat understandable given that most compilations tend to cater to those who mostly follow the more well known eras of bands and don’t have the commitment to the band to purchase all of the studio output from that time.

Much like the characteristic epic sound that Black Sabbath began to adopt on “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” and really began to expand upon during the Dio era of the band, most of these songs are very long in length, but follow pretty predictable song patterns. Clearly defined verse and chorus sections with a slightly above average amount of interlude exploration here and there, with no real desire to be progressive as far as song structure is concerned. But the mood that is set on all of these songs tells the story of a band pushing the envelope of what depressive dark music sounds like, setting up gloomy atmospheres through keyboard and acoustic guitar usage, as well as low end, repetitive and minimal riffing that goes just a couple of steps further than what Sabbath would go to at this point, save a few darker songs heard on “Born Again” and “Headless Cross“.

Although the transition between songs from the various Messiah era offerings are very smooth and consistent, there is a sizable jump in style from the first three songs from “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus” to the rest of the album that is noteworthy. The vocal differentiation between Johan Lingquist and Messiah is relatively small as both possess a similarly woeful baritone/tenor character to their voices, but Messiah’s vocal character proves to be a bit more expressive and operatic, and serves to give the rest of the material on here a much more animated nature. The keyboard atmosphere of the Messiah songs tends more towards a full orchestral sound that serves this sense of expressiveness, while the material from the debut has a bit of an earlier 80s, almost NWOBHM character to it, although much slower in tempo and with darker, lower sounding riff work. But one constant throughout is the lead guitar work, which is really virtuosic compared to even the more showy adherents to early 80s Heavy and Speed Metal.

If you’ve got the money to burn and you already have all of the albums represented on here, the only purpose in picking this up would be the demo version of “Witches”, which has a bit of a rougher production than the final product that appeared on the self-titled album that marked Messiah’s brief return to the fold. It may or may not be worth it, but those who don’t have any of all of the albums in question are the primary target audience of this release. It could have been better by taking into account the other eras of the band, but for a best of release, it definitely gets the job done.