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Candlemass is undoubtedly one of the most historic and legendary doom metal bands. For the majority of the fans of this particular metal genre, the announcement that Candlemass were reunited with their original line up was met with excitement and high expectations. However, some were more sceptical and had their doubts on whether Candlemass could reproduce the unique atmosphere they had in the past. I have to admit that I was among the sceptical ones: following the split-up of Candlemass after “Chapter VI”, the members of the band decided to create their own bands. Nevertheless, these new bands never managed to reach the success that Canlemass had achieved, at least not in the commercial level. Leif Edling even reformed the band, with totally different members and a totally different musical approach, yet success still seemed to be out of reach. The sudden declaration that Candlemass were back once again with their original line up led me to the conclusion that the members of the band simply tried to take advantage of the name “Candlemass” in an effort to attract attention and regenerate their diminished popularity.
Our fears were partially and temporarily falsified with the release of the album “Candlemass” in 2005. Although this new record could hardly be compared with the masterpieces the band had released during the ’80s, it proved that Candlemass still had the ability to provide us with doom metal of high quality and interesting compositions. Nevertheless, the band would soon face a new difficulty: after the subsequent tours for the promotion of the new album, vocalist Messiah Marcolin decided to leave the group. Since the operatic style Messiah employed contributed essentially to the distinct sound of Candlemass, a lot of fans expressed feelings of uncertainty concerning the future of the band. Many thought that Candlemass had little to offer without Messiah.
It was obvious that finding a replacement for a singer as established and accomplished as Messiah would be no easy task. Leif Edling and the other members of Candlemass sought to recruit an experienced vocalist, whose abilities could not be questioned. Robert Lowe seemed to be the perfect choice, as he had served for long years in the underrated band of Solitude Aeturnus, always displaying excellent skills. Thus, with Robert Lowe as their lead vocalist, Candlemass recorded and released their next album, “King Of The Grey Islands”.
The first impression one gets when examining “King Of The Grey Islands” is that it is a very dark and gloomy record. The cover artwork is a plain picture of a skull bearing a crown, an image totally devoid of colour. The same colourless pattern is followed when it comes to the photographs of the band members. What is more, this pessimistic and broody atmosphere is evident in the musical content of the record. Indeed, if “King Of The Grey Islands” were a painting, it would probably be black and white. This album is a musical manifestation of darkness, depression and solitude - nothing less than what is expected from a doom metal record.
Even though the atmosphere of “King Of The Grey Islands” is mostly reminiscent of “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus”, the songs themselves seem to be a combination between the “Nightfall” and “Ancient Dreams” periods of Candlemass. Heavy and mysterious guitar riffs that seem to drag themselves through the tracks, eerie parts with operatic vocals, melancholic and depressive lyrics that nevertheless include small hints of hope. As always, the influences from Black Sabbath constitute the main feature of Candlemass’ music. The majority of the songs are inspired and enjoyable, proving that Leif Edling can still deliver excellent doom compositions. “Of Stars And Smoke” and “Embracing The Styx”, for instance, could easily be included in a compilation of Candlemass’ greatest songs. Robert Lowe’s vocal contribution seems to have revived the band, adding a distinct quality to the final result. “King Of The Grey Islands” gives a very clear and definite answer to the question whether Messiah could successfully be replaced.
However, there is a flaw in Candlemass’ current album, a flaw that constitutes the main reason why we’re not dealing with an excellent record. More specifically, “King Of The Grey Islands” is not only influenced from “Ancient Dreams” or “Nightfall”, but it is also extremely reminiscent of these albums, in a manner that becomes annoying at times. When listening to the tracks of Candlemass’ recent album, a listener who is familiar with the former works of the group will sometimes get a feeling like “wait a minute, I think I’ve heard this riff before in the past”. Once again, it is Robert Lowe that saves the day: had it not been for his excellent performance, which adds to the originality of the album’s sound, then “King Of The Grey Islands” would probably be considered a simple repetition of what Candlemass produced in past years.
Overall, despite its minor flaws, “King Of The Grey Islands” seems to be an encouraging step towards a right direction. If Candlemass take advantage of the skilful singer they now possess, and if they manage to sound a little bit more original, then they will surely create even greater albums and re-establish themselves as the absolute masters of European doom metal.