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Candlemass is dead. Long live Candlemass. - 87%

joncheetham88, December 21st, 2009

More than its successor Death Magic Doom, King of the Grey Islands finds its strength in a consistent style and quality throughout. There is an updated guitar tone, fuller and more threatening than that found on 2005's self-titled LP, and a far groovier and more aggressive rhythm sound. Although the faster-paced incarnation of Candlemass has been criticized for departing from the traditional doom sound they helped pioneer, the 2005 album had definitely lacked energy, for all its good qualities. Edling has mentioned a healthier working relationship within the band after Messiah Marcolin took his leave, and that has contributed to the band sounded revitalized and more enthusiastic than before.

The addition of the bare-pated Robert Lowe, an alumni of Solitude Aeternus, is basically what makes this album such an attention-grabber. He howls out the lyrics with all the devilish spite and vinegar Messiah had begun to lack so sorely in his later performances. Possibly the most immediately striking singer the 'mass has had, he has a slightly nasal tone in his fearsome highest notes, and an almost flippantly thin enunciation of his vowel sounds during the slower songs which makes his roars contrast all the more effectively. He can become a little monotonous at times, but is usually responsible for most of the energy present in these songs.

Edling's songwriting gets a kick in the arse too. While songs like 'Devil Seed', the throbbing standout 'Demonia 6' and the chanted 'Clearsight' have a classic doom influence, with heavy, Sabbath riffs, the heavy metal sound explored on the Lucifer Rising EP's title track and the subsequent album is touched on in more groove-based, pummeling numbers like 'Emperor of the Void.' 'Of Stars and Smoke' complements the groaning riffs with an epic, almost romantic chorus and in general a much more ambitious, high-register performance by Lowe. 'Man of Shadows' and 'Embracing the Styx' feature '70s sounding proggy breaks, that are pulled off authentically enough to improve the track rather than disjoint it.

As if to state the introduction of Robert Lowe as more than simply the latest of many Candlemass vocalists, and reinforce his position as a definitive frontman for the line-up that has been unchanging since 2001 outside of Messiah's departure, King of the Grey Islands features a number of re-recordings that previously featured either Messiah or Johan Langquist. The most worthwhile of these is 'Solitude', something of a signature song for the band and indeed the entire genre of doom. It had needed a polishing.

Of the material recorded so far with Lowe, and even of all the 21st century albums from Candlemass, King of the Grey Islands is the most solid and rewarding thing on offer. Ironically, Candlemass was truly resurrected years after the band's latest official reunion. Without any of the erratically implemented experimentation that plagued its successor, nor the torpid vocals and guitar playing found on the predecessor, the album throughout its runtime is a heavy, muscled piece of blues-based doom with flavours of traditional heavy metal sure to draw you into a dark and monochromatic place.