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Matches the scale of the album cover - 93%

gasmask_colostomy, July 28th, 2013
Written based on this version: 2013, 2 12" vinyls, Peaceville Records (Reissue, Gatefold)

It would be really hard for me to give a Candlemass album a poor rating, but I did consider giving 'Ancient Dreams' about 80%. Hopefully, by the end of this review my reasoning will be explained.

However, I'd like to start with the album cover, a copy of Thomas Cole's painting 'Youth'. That cover is a lot for any band to live up to, isn't it? There's a gorgeous, primal countryside with a foreboding mountain lurking at the horizon, above which we can see a temple in the sky - the celestial city. In the foreground is a tiny boat with two figures reaching towards that distant and unearthly emblem, straining to touch the unreachable.

And yet, that scene describes Candlemass so exactly. The band sound, in a completely non-denominational sense, utterly godly as they stretch a musical finger towards the perfect city in the sky that, as we can tell from the fact they are playing doom metal, they know they will never reach. There is a hopeless crushing quality to the music and lyrics that in no way undermines the joyous celebration that those epic riffs seem to create: the vastness of the sound and vision is matched only by the emptiness of the reality, because without that mirage on the cover, it is only a man alone in a boat and without those sublime ideas Candlemass is only five Swedes with instruments and dodgy haircuts (seriously, Google Leif Edling's mullet).

'Ancient Dreams' is not the best Candlemass album, though it might contain the most perfectly realised songs of the band's career. 'Mirror Mirror' is a VERY strong opener, but is superseded three times as the best song on the album. 'Darkness in Paradise' has a wickedly haunting vocal line and the main riff sounds like a salute to angels; 'Bearer of Pain' is lyrically very involving and has a great solo; 'Ancient Dreams' really does sound like the sky opening up and the mysteries of the universe being revealed, even though the theme is concerning the futility of hope and the eternal longing that won't go away. Aside from those exquisite moments there is a good general mixture of signature Candlemass elements. Slower songs are well balanced alongside faster riffs and sections, the leads are usually creative and satisfying and Messiah gives perhaps his best performance with plenty of nuance alongside his famous power.

My complaints, however, are directed at 'Incarnation of Evil' and 'Black Sabbath Medley'. Sad to say but 'Incarnation of Evil' does not really sound like a Candlemass song, nor does it sound like a song by any other band I want to listen to. It's an example of a graet band forgetting what makes them great, as the most bombastic epic doom machine in the world has a crack at subtlety, which isn't what this kind of music is about at all. The performance is flat, too slow and lifeless and the riffs and vocal lines are very forgettable, not to mention the horrible cliche of the lyrics. 'Black Sabbath Medley' is not particularly bad, I just don't find it a helpful addition to this version of the album - I would prefer to just have a copy on disc 2 of the remastered edition alongside the live tracks. Candlemass and Sabbath are very different bands, whatever the debt of influence owed, and those very classic riffs sound horribly out of place after the last rites of the closer.

A few minor points to grumble about might be the slightly flat guitar tone (it attained levels of impeccable crispiness on the following full-length) or the moments that wander in the more generic 'A Cry from the Crypt' or the way that 'The Bells of Acheron' repeats a riff that isn't that interesting. The drums could sound a bit tighter as well, bearing in mind that I'm reviewing the remastered version (actually the Peaceville double CD), but I can't help but feel that these complaints are caused by the utter hugeness of four of the tracks on here, plus the don't-touch-anything beauty of 'Epistle 81'. I do award one bonus point for Leif Edling's description of Milton Keynes (where I currently live) in the liner notes with the apt summary that it's all roundabouts, but "where are the people?"

Now, to explain my actual rating. If those two nasty songs mentioned above were removed from the release (at least from disc 1), 'Ancient Dreams' would contain 7 songs and be 45 minutes long, which is plenty of time for a doom metal album, especially when the songs are as well developed as they are here. Of those 45 minutes, there is ONE other fault that I can find, which is the high note that Messiah hits in the chorus of 'Bearer of Pain', though even that's growing on me. That gets on my tits, but everything else is sublime. Everything else makes me feel like I could touch that castle in the sky.