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Album of the year? - 98%

Agonymph, July 16th, 2007

Can Candlemass survive without Messiah Marcolin? I have never had any doubts about that myself anyway. Their number one classic (‘Epicus Doomicus Metallicus’) had Johan Langqvist singing and the first album after Messiah’s first departure (‘Chapter VI’) wasn’t only handled very capably by Thomas Vikström, but also has some of the band’s best songs to date. Replacing Messiah this time is Doom Metal singer number one, Solitude Aeturnus-singer Robert Lowe. And no disrespect to Messiah, but I hope he won’t return this time. Because what Robert Lowe did on this album is bordering on the incredible.

Not only does Lowe do an outstanding job on ‘King Of The Grey Islands’, the whole band is in a shape I never thought they would be capable of. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved Candlemass in every incarnation they have had so far, but it seems like they’re breaking all the boundaries they set themselves with this album. Helped by a production that is guarateed to blow your mind, Candlemass lets nothing hold them back this time. The result is a stellar album, which is – who would have thought? – even surprising at times!

After a slightly unnecessary intro, the opening riff of ‘Emperor Of The Void’ blasts through either your speakers or headphones. It was the latter for me. I was heading for the mall on my bicycle when this amazing riff came on. I stopped for a minute, took my headphones off, said “holy shit!”, put my headphones back on and cycled further. It was that strong. Something about this song already shows you this album is going to be more powerful than what you’re used to from Candlemass. Part of that is definitely Robert Lowe’s vocals. Where Messiah would probably have done these vocal lines operatically, Lowe adds a certain, creepy atmosphere to the whole thing. And let’s not forget that amazing chorus!

See, I’ve mentioned a chorus already! I would hardly do that with Candlemass, because – let’s be honest – they hardly had any outstanding choruses in the past (‘Demon’s Gate’ maybe...), but this album is full of them. Memorable, but never cheesy. I heard a sample of ‘Of Stars And Smoke’ on the Candlemass MySpace several days prior to buying the album and it somehow didn’t do much to me. I can’t remember why and I can’t understand either, because ‘Of Stars And Smoke’ has – by far! – the best chorus in any Candlemass song. The pre-chorus to ‘Devil Seed’ is getting a hold of you and never letting go material as well. Singing along and banging your head have never been combined so naturally as on this album.

Though Leif Edling will always do whatever it takes to keep Candlemass and Krux apart two separate bands – my hope that Mats Levén would become the new Candlemass-singer was not answered due to that reason – there definitely are some references to Krux’s sound at some moments on this album. Most of that is caused by Carl Westholm’s keyboards. His subtle sense of psychedelia really makes some points on this album shine even more than they already would have done without those keyboards. Take ‘Man Of Shadows’ for instance, there’s this pre-chorus that appears only once in the entire song with acoustic guitars and keyboard work that can’t do anything else than causing goosebumps. The part reminds me of the pre-chorus to ‘I Still See The Black’ from ‘Dactylis Glomerata’ somehow. ‘Man Of Shadows’ probably has Lars Johansson’s best guitar solos to date as well.

But the best treat of this album is saved for last. Is ‘Embracing The Styx’ the best Candlemass-song to date? If you ask me...maybe ‘At The Gallow’s End’ is the only serious competition for that! ‘Embracing The Styx’ is really the über-doomsong that many bands in the genre wish they had made. It’s a bit Krux-ish too. The intro riff just kills you, I promise you. And if it wasn’t atmospheric enough, Carl Westholm hits the ground note on the piano and adds some of his typical synths to make it even better. Then there’s Robert Lowe, who is all over the place on this one, especially on the mighty chorus, and Leif Edling even has a bass solo! Now, usually, I’m not really into bass solos – please note that I am in fact a bass player! – but this one fits the mood of the song perfectly. The acoustic outro with Lowe’s beautiful vocals rounds the album off in perfect fashion.

If you have the digipack version, you will get two more tracks. Both are re-recordings of classic Candlemass songs. The songs sound a bit odd because the guitars are tuned lower than the original versions and I suddenly noticed that Mats Björkman and Lars Johansson have a completely different way of playing rhythm guitar. There are no overdubs, as can be heard in a few minor mistakes in the songs, so I guess these are quite professional rehearsal recordings. The true reason to get these recordings is that Robert Lowe is singing on them. The songs are ‘Solitude’ and ‘At The Gallows End’. And he first thing I think when I hear Lowe singing these tunes is: “Messiah who?”.

Leif Edling will probably never agree with me on this one, but it’s Messiah Marcolin’s fault this album is so good. The music was already completed long before he left the band and he could only have fucked up the whole thing. ‘King Of The Grey Islands’ really confirms my idea that Messiah was holding them back. The album has all the elements I was missing in “classic Candlemass”. Suddenly the band dares to experiment. There are, for instance, more acoustic guitars and keyboards than on any previous Candlemass-album and there are more unusual song sructures for a Doom band here. This is definitely the most progressive album the band has made so far. And if that isn’t already enough, there’s still Robert Lowe, who delivers another proof of why he is the ultimate Doom singer.

My retailer, who had a promo of the album for a long time already, had been teasing me, telling me ‘King Of The Grey Islands’ is such an amazing album, for a long time prior to the release, as he knows that I’m not downloading, but I can only say he’s right. This might just be my album of the year! And maybe even the best Doom album ever? Not sure about that, but it’s definitely right up there with Solitude Aeturnus’ ‘Into The Depths Of Sorrow’ and Krux’s self titled debut for me. And it’s the ultimate proof of my statement that Doom Metal, when executed right, can be just as good as Thrash Metal. ‘King Of The Grey Islands’ is not only recommended, it’s obligatory for anyone who loves Heavy Metal.