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For all intents and purposes, this is the last Candlemass album. Thus, it’s a sad day for metal, as it bids goodbye to the prospect of fresh material from one of its most important formative entities. The band has not broken up, mind, but they’ve stated with relative finality that they do not wish to grow stagnant, and thus are ending their full-length legacy here at number 11 with Psalms for the Dead. While I would not qualify this as one of their very best records, it nevertheless draws upon all of the things that make Candlemass truly great, and proves a very solid goodbye. Personally, I think Leif Edling and co. have the potential for another masterpiece in them, and hope for a follow up down the road, but as far as legacies go, this is a more than satisfactory requiem.
Psalms for the Dead exists very much in the same realm as the last few records, and continues to be fronted by Solitude Aeternus front-man Robert Lowe, whom I’ve always felt has fit the band perfectly, particularly in the astonishing King of the Grey Islands. His dynamic range continues to serve the vast, epic compositional nature, with charismatic yet melancholy bellowing rising above the dark, ornate slabs of riffing. He may not be quite as impressively maniacal or varied as Messiah Marcolin, but I’ve had no issues with any of his performances here. As for the record itself, you can expect a healthy 50 minutes of thick, lumbering, Sabbath-influenced doom, drawing from the well of fantasy in both lyrical and atmospheric strati. As always, the tones here are just crushing, a dense low-end crunch that proves full and resonant. Edling’s bass is particularly satisfying, like rhythmic shifting of tectonic plates beneath the fiery oceans of riffing.
Speaking of riffing, the quality here is incredibly consistent, with a strong breadth of songs that nicely encapsulate what exactly Candlemass is. Overall, I felt the compositional tendency was a bit on the safe side, with relatively predictable structures for verse, chorus, and refrain, but the tone of the individual tracks shifts enough to be engrossing, and as always, there are a good number of addictive choruses present and accounted for. I’d be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention that I feel an opportunity may have been wasted here to delve into some more progressive variations, paying tribute to the adventurous nature of their earlier material. Black as Time is the exception to this, with more unconventional tactics, and is incredibly satisfying as it morphs through varying incarnations. Regardless, any real fan of the band is going to find a lot to like here, as it’s all unmistakably Candlemass, in all their ornate mythological grandeur. It’s noticeably less oppressive than fans of their earlier material might want, as the songs don’t always have that weighty, menacing quality many look for, but it’s highly functional and memorable nevertheless. There’s some organ-like keyboard additions scattered throughout as well, adding some unique flavor in a creepy, vaguely Castlevania-esque style. It’s easy to feel like one is trapped in a haunted cathedral, beset by looming fantastical creatures, and other such imagery. In essence, its doom metal, conjuring the level of atmosphere one would expect from the guys who virtually wrote the fucking playbook. Heavy, unique, dark, and addictive, there is a lot to like here.
Psalms for the Dead is divided pretty well into subsections that all resonate with spiritual trappings of classic heavy and doom, but with appreciably distinct variables innate to each. Prophet has a dreamy midsection with addictive vocal lines and some beautiful guitar-work, a strong opening piece that conjures classic heavy metal with its thick, elegant licks; Dancing in the Temple of the Mad Queen Bee thrives on simplicity, but provides the hooks necessary to snare you in as it bounces between organ-ornamented marching and vibrant, memorable leads; The Lights of Thebe feels like some traditional Candlemass, displaying a creeping, permeating grandeur through thick, epic chords and some powerful vocal work from Lowe; though not quite reaching the overwhelming quality of Nightfall, Ancient Dreams, or even King of the Grey Islands, there are truly no losers here, as each track proves to be both satisfying and memorable, all but demanding multiple listens.
You know, it really doesn’t get more iconic than Candlemass. It just doesn’t. While Psalms for the Dead may not be the stunning masterwork many were hoping for, given the finality present here, and doesn’t really herald many surprises for those familiar with their work in the last ten years, it’s hard not to feel swept up in the dark fantasy epic that this band still weaves with ease. In 1986, these guys took the heavy blues of Sabbath and imbued it with a billowing darkness and a propensity for absolutely crushing riff-craft, literally changing metal forever, and in this reviewer’s opinion, have barely even stumbled since, even in the harder times around the turn of the century. Pslams for the Dead delivers on this promise with spirit and grace. It’s achingly sad to say goodbye to a band that’s given us so much, but it’s simultaneously admirable that they chose to bow out before they could descend into a caricature, though personally I find that instance virtually impossible. Candlemass are one of the best, most important metal bands of all time, doom or otherwise, and Psalms for the Dead is one last love letter displaying that fact, one that every self-respecting fan of heaviness should experience, if only for its significance as the closing chapter in an absolutely stellar career.
It’s with a heavy heart and a cheeky adherence to cliche that I bid Candlemass a fond farewell, but I think we, and they, can be satisfied with the fact that they’ve created a host of undying musical worlds, a self-contained, ageless universe of heaviness that will continue to awe and inspire future generations to unleash their own unique emanations of heavy metal, on until our psychotic race inevitably destroys itself. Whether that’s later this month, or in a thousand years, at the gallows end or at the killing of the sun, may the hammer of doom pound on, eternal, through the infinitive halls of death.
-Left Hand of Dog