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Shattering the Mirror Image of Heaviness - 100%

bayern, May 20th, 2017

The late-80’s… the world was speed and thrash (with a healthy shade of death), and if one wanted to survive, they had to adapt to these speedy ways of expression. The US power metal scene nearly disappeared with many of its representatives (Helstar, Nasty Savage, Laaz Rockit, Liege Lord, Attacker, etc.) putting on the thrash “uniform”. Even the epic metal band of all epic metal bands Manilla Road started thrashing like demented on “Out of the Abyss” (simply remember “White Chapel” and run all the way to the Moon for cover). For a moment the other battle hymn-behemoths, Manowar, created the illusion that they were turning into a Slayer clone with “Winds of Fire”, the “Kings of Metal“ opener…

In truth, the speed/thrash metal craze was the first indication that the metal brotherhood was open to adaptations, so it wasn’t so surprising after all that many of the 80’s veterans embraced, more or less readily, the groove/aggro/alternative trends that conquered the scene a few years later. Evolution was the name of the game even for the leaders of the doom metal ship, Candlemass. Playing fast and tight within a doom metal context wasn’t exactly a novelty before the album reviewed here: just remember Trouble and their frequent speedy excursions on their early instalments; and Mercy, the band from where Messiah Marcolin came, although the Swedes’ arsenal wasn’t very loosely related to doom in the first place.

For the Leif Edling gang “flirtations” with the more dynamic ways of expression weren’t the rarest occurrence, either, although they could only be traced to “Sorcerer’s Pledge“ from the debut, and “”Dark are the Veils of Death” from “Nightfall” (bits and pieces from “At the Gallows End” as well). However, here these expressions take the upper hand threatening to tumble the whole doom ship down, but all in a good way. I guess it’s only the kings of doom that can pull it off without sticking to the genre regulations; and not only but also to create their magnum opus. Because in the long run it’s the quality of the music that matters, not some stupid definitions and dogmatic tags restricting the artists’ visions…

I revere each of the first four Candlemass albums in pretty much the same way, but I tend to listen to this album here the most. I don’t know why, I guess it’s the more various manners of execution, its very dark sinister tone, its depressing pessimistic aura… it’s tough to tell. What sucks in the listener almost immediately is the very thick bass sound; Edling had decided to put himself up front, and the bass literally peels pieces of skin from your body the moment “Mirror Mirror” starts. This is arguably the most ship-sinking bass reverberation this side of Geezer Butler’s early feats. It dominates the landscape with such authority that there are moments from the album where it deafens the guitars even. You can hear the glasses and the plates shake in the kitchen if you play the music louder… it could even shatter the foundations of a small shack; no kidding.

Bass burps aside, said opener is a fabulous way to begin this morose saga. It’s hard to categorize this number; it is thrash, is it doom, is it power… I guess it’s just gorgeous metal Marcolin’s extraordinary vocals bringing all opera singers back to the conservatory with the closing glass-breaking chords. Mournful doom notes inaugurate the arrival of “A Cry from the Crypt”, but what follows is the greatest gallops in the annals of metal, absolutely overwhelming, Russian tank-like, steam-roller guitars that leave no stone unturned during their brooding, intimidating march. This is speed/thrash at its heaviest, most doom-laden form that puts to shame half the functional at the time thrash brotherhood. But that’s not all as at the end we have an extraordinary elegiac, sorrowful doomy epitaph, a bit over a min of pure musical magic; so much for nullifying pleiads of doom metal opuses with just a single stroke…

doom metal takes over afterwards, and “Darkness in Paradise” is one of the guys’ most emblematic songs, dark depression in its most shining musical form. Not much brightness on the following “Incarnation of Evil”, another supreme doom metal anthem with a crushing main motif which could pass for thrash if sped up by a notch; Johansson is ravishing with some of the greatest leads unleashed from his arsenal not to mention Marcolin’s impressive, soporific high-strung antics. “Bearer of Pain” brings back the more aggressive thrashy riffage which gets mixed with breath-taking balladic sections and hypnotic doomy dirges to a fairly dramatic effect. Prepare for the title-track, doom metal in its purest, most epic shape largely carried by Marcolin’s splendid performance, arguably the crowning achievement in his career. “The Bells of Acheron” follows suit to bang the heads again with vigorous speed/thrashy rhythms, the most immediate piece here, direct intense riffage without much doomy ado. “Epistle N81” largely compensates for the previous number’s hyper-active stance with grievous soporific tunes bordering on the ballad, but is this one of the saddest songs ever composed, not without Marcolin’s help again who nearly cries on some of the lines; the Funeral March should be re-written with motifs from this cut included to stop casual mourners and passers-by from dancing around the graves like it happens from time to time.

“Nightfall” is pretty much the perfect doom metal opus; it didn’t make sense for the band to reproduce it note-by-note for their own gratification. Something had to change, either to inaugurate the funeral doom sector by slowing down to a snail-like rate which wasn’t such an impossible task having in mind that the guys gave such a superb rendition of the Funeral March; or to speed up and impress the audience with their ability to speed/thrash with the finest. They simply settled for the second option, and came up with another masterpiece, an album that didn’t repeat their past exploits and had its individual face, also attracting wider audience in the process. I don’t know a Candlemass fan who had been left disappointed by this album; some were surprised by its faster pace, but such grand music is easy to get into, and man, would this overpowering bass hypnotize you like a serpent, and ensnare you in its iron grip…

one more grandiose opus followed a year later, again with a more characteristic sound, the bass tamed to a large extent for the sake of sharper, still super heavy guitars. Then Marcolin left thus allowing his comrades to explore more flexible vistas with “Chapter VI” which gave birth to a large scene of progressive power/doom metal acts (Memento Mori with Marcolin fully operational once again; Abstrakt Algebra, an Edling side-project; Fifth Reason, Memory Garden, Veni Domine, etc.). More metamorphoses followed including another stint with Marcolin (the self-titled, 2005) until the band found their stride again with none other than Robert Lowe (Solitude Aeturnus) behind the mike. The veterans are alive and well in the new millennium, there’s nothing stopping them from conquering Mount Doom again and again, be it with a slow patient stroll, or with an impetuous urgent gallop.