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Me My Wrists and a Blade - 85%

mengeloid, December 8th, 2007

I was playing 'Essential Doom' in the car with a non-metal friend, when he bemusedly asked me to explain the appeal of such a band as Candlemass. I told him to imagine ordering a pizza, a delicious pizza with all of his favourite toppings in perfect combination. Now, I said, imagine that pizza, smothered with extra cheese. He understood straight away, though I don't think I made a convert of him.
When I heard that Robert Lowe of mediocre, cheese-dripping Solitude Aeturnus was to join the legendary C-mass, I was overjoyed, not only because it would give him the platform to realise his considerable vocal potential (and on decent recordings, I might add), but also because I felt that after years of emulating the epic doom sound, he thoroughly deserved the chance to play the real thing. I was not disappointed.

King of the Grey Islands, to carry the analogy, has only a modest sprinkling of cheese. Edling's style has definitely evolved since the glory days of Nightfall and Ancient Dreams, and where once the sound was restrained (as in 'Cry from the Crypt'), of late it surges relentlessly forward (as in 'Black Dwarf'). Grey Islands certainly follows this trend of pounding momentum, yet with a touch more finesse and C-mass authenticity than the somewhat abysmal self-titled album. There are some excellent songs on this album, especially 'Embracing the Styx' which combines a stunning guitar riff with a dramatic vocal riff and lyrical motifs to 'die' for (although they've always had superb themes).
Even though some tracks are a little bland (Demonia 6 doesn't bear a whole lot of scrutiny), Lowe's outstanding vocal performance makes it all worthwhile. His tone, so starkly different, nay, oppositional to Marcolin's, reminds us of deserts and dehydration, of rage and misery and many things Messiah's triumphal operatics struggle to convey. An added bonus on at least one version of the album are two 'vocal sessions with Robert Lowe', 'Solitude' and 'Gallow's End'. These I have probably played the most, obviously because they're classics, but believe me, he does them justice.

There are a couple of flaws to King of the Grey Islands, my chief complaint is the inexorable repetition of certain songs, for instance Demonia 6. I put this down to the band's veteran status (it's hard to write new material that's actually good), and the fact that the vocals were apparently recorded a continent away from the band under severe time pressure, considering which, they've produced a remarkable album.

Without dragging this out much further, I'd like to comment on Mappe Bjorkman's wierd and innovative guitar solos. The difference of Grey Islands is often most apparent when from the crushing bellows of the new sound flowers an absolutely authentic, arpeggiated solo that is unquestionably Candlemass in the oldest tradition. It's a very well played album, and I fervently hope for another, even fresher album in the next couple of years...