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Confidence - 92%

gasmask_colostomy, April 21st, 2017

Not just any band could get away with cover artwork that shows merely the band logo and a tiny plain crucifix on a white background. For most bands, particularly metal bands, that would turn their fans off from buying the album since it seems like there is not much personality to found within and a lack of visual imagery to tie to the music. However, most bands aren't Candlemass. When their debut was released almost 20 years before this album, the image of the horned skull pierced by a cross quickly became representative of the band and has stayed with them throughout a long career. Therefore, when Candlemass fans saw the artwork to this self-titled album, they must have rapidly realized that the minimalism was not a sign of a band with no ideas, but rather of a band so certain of their own identity that there was no need to distract from the essence of the group. In the same way as Metallica's "black album", that tiny crucifix was a signal of confidence.

And - to hurry quickly to the point - that confidence was not misplaced. Candlemass is a superb album from the Swedish crew, lacking neither trademark identity nor distinguishing features and ensuring that the last album with Messiah Marcolin was one to cherish rather than sigh over. Indeed, the eccentric singer brought a certain something to proceedings here that he hadn't done on his three earlier Candlemass outings, keeping his range in check and opting for power and subtlety instead, leaving the album a mite less dramatic though just as impactful as Nightfall or Tales of Creation. In part, that more controlled performance is down to the other members of the band, who play in a simpler fashion than they did back in the '80s, though also with more focus on power and sheer scale, something that the thunderous production enhances and throws in your face. Seriously, listening to this at high volume is like having an elephant sit on your chest. All this means that the minor power metal elements are stripped from the style (though that was the case as well on the two Björn Flodkvist-fronted albums that preceded this one), while the "epic" doom element is delivered by means of brutish heaviness, widescreen destruction, and the soar and swoop of vocals and lead guitar.

Candlemass gave the first glimpse of the doom metal titans' second successful formula and accompanied the heavier and grittier style with significant steps in the production department, so that Mats Björkman gets an incredible rhythm guitar tone that flattens itself against the speakers, ably battered into lead sheets by Jan Lindh's pounding drums, and Leif Edling essentially headbutts your ears with his bass work that sticks to his theory of using the instrument as another guitar. As such, the sheer density of the sound is amazing and might make the purchase of the album worthwhile even if all the riffs were shit. Thankfully, they are about as far from shit as the Earth is from the Sun, each song featuring something to get the teeth into. For those weaned on 'The Well of Souls', there may be some crestfallen faces at finding the elegant melodies missing, but doom metal is all about that crestfallen feeling, which the main riffs to 'Spellbreaker' or 'Seven Silver Keys' are certainly going to produce in the best way imaginable. The slow riffs get an immense kick from the instrumental tones and are delivered with such deliberately monumental note progressions that there is really no arguing with them, except a few moments in 'Assassin of the Light' when a brief "Sabbath, is that you?" may fill your mind. As with all great doom metal, the slow riffs can make you lose your breath and lose your mind, but are also catchy enough to hum aloud, while the faster songs 'Black Dwarf', 'Witches', and 'Born in a Tank' don't hold back, thrashing about with dangerous amounts of energy that shatter the peace of the other sections. Lars Johansson deserves a quick mention too, since not only has he been a core component of Candlemass since the early days but is probably one of the most underrated guitarists in heavy metal: here, he doesn't have the freedom that he experienced on Tales of Creation, yet each time he peels off a solo it strikes the sweet spot, both in terms of musicality and spine-tingling emotion.

Choosing favourite songs from this album is difficult, so I would prefer to mention the parts that slip slightly in the quality stakes. 'Assassin of the Light', as previously mentioned, has a few parts that don't feel quite so inspired as the rest though doesn't suffer too much; then 'Born in a Tank' is a thoroughly sound arse-kicking yet a little odd for Candlemass in its jumpiness and lyrical sentiments; finally, 'The Day and the Night' is slightly unwieldy in its length and can be blamed for letting attention wander, as with decent instrumental 'The Man Who Fell from the Sky'. All things considered, these are small complaints in the light of the whole album and there is no song that feels like filler or contains significant blunders. Different stylistic elements crop up in different places, from the Black Sabbath vibe of 'Assassin of the Light' to the imperious My Dying Bride riffing in 'Copernicus' to a certain timbre of the vocals in 'The Day and the Night' that reminds me of Maryland doomsters Revelation - there's even a splash of punk influence on the bonus track. For me, the highlights are marginally 'Witches', which deviates a little from the traditional slow structure in a manner that was repeated for 'Demonia 6' on King of the Grey Islands, while 'Spellbreaker' smashes it out of the park in terms of bombastic doom riffing and tangible atmosphere. An additional highlight that might take some explanation were the bizarre YouTube comments that I found on a video of 'Black Dwarf' a few years ago: several viewers had written solemnly below the video "R.I.P. Gary Coleman" in - erm - tribute to the diminutive American actor who died in 2010. Don't ever say that doom can't be funny.

So, Candlemass is a great album, but that tends to be the case with this band, so how does it stack up against their other efforts? Certainly there is a stylistic gap to bridge for listeners more in favour of the earlier incarnation, while I feel that this album concedes a point or two to the nastier successor King of the Grey Islands, the songs on which seemed to link together better as a whole. On the other hand, the songwriting does not fluctuate much between those efforts. There are some parallels between Candlemass and the neglected Chapter VI, a release that profited from a subtler approach and intriguing yet disparate topics, but the modern production here makes it more difficult to ignore when your house is coming down around your ears. Though it sounds strange to write such a sentence, this album confidently seals its status as one of six must-have Candlemass albums.