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Time is blaaaaaack! - 90%

hippie_holocaust, June 11th, 2012

Doom giants Candlemass return to deliver their eleventh and possibly final full length album of a long and illustrious career. Psalms for the Dead is an elegant work of massive, riff-endowed heavy metal from start to finish. Robert Lowe handles vocal duties again, albeit for the last time, as the band announced on their official web site June 2nd that he has been dismissed due to “quality of live performances.” A Swedish dude named Mats Leven will be taking over for the ensuing tour dates.

“Prophet” opens the album with doom-dance domination, making plain the confidence of the musicians and mastery of their craft. The first riff you will hear is pure, bone crushing doom, then they up the tempo with beefy double kicks and the mighty voice of Robert Lowe. The instrumentalists here consist of the classic line-up, with main man and bassist Leif Edling, the Johansson/Bjorkman guitar duo, and drummer Jan Lindh. Keyboardist Per Wiberg of Opeth fame plays the Hammond organ on one track of Psalms for the Dead, and will be joining Candlemass for the upcoming tour. Second track “The Sound of Dying Demons” is plodding and slow, opening with a heavy floor tom beat and the subtle sound of a storm in the background. Jan Lindh has been referred to as a “boring” drummer, but in my opinion he is an ideal doom metal drummer, doing his job with good taste and tact. Besides, if you’re listening to metal for drum kit wankery, doom might be the wrong genre for you.

“Waterwitch” is just fuckin awesome, with a bit of wah-pedal employed on the beginning riff a-la Mr. Iommi’s “Electric Funeral.” Edling’s creeping bass line beneath Lowe’s mournful voice in the verse juxtaposed to mammoth riffing make this a standout track of the album, and there’s also some tremendous lead guitar shredding to make it a complete masterpiece of a heavy metal song. I think Candlemass could probably write quality albums until they croak; their well of riffs seems to be bottomless. Interestingly enough, lead axe man Lars Johansson is a lefty, as is the godfather himself, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Psalms for the Dead comes with special packaging with some excellent band photos, printed lyrics, and a bonus DVD featuring some cool behind the scenes footage. If you happen to have a copy of Nightfall lying around, it’s interesting to compare the physical appearance of Candlemass twenty-five years ago to that of the same band today. Leif Edling seems to be ageless. The liner notes also feature a black and white illustration of the band that calls to mind the back cover of Heaven and Hell.

The onslaught of manly riffing continues into the title track, with the keyboards adding an eerie dimension to the overall tone of lamentation. “Psalms for the Dead / Songs for the Living” is the profound and triumphant cry of Robert Lowe on this crusher. It is indeed disheartening to see the departure of this amazing singer from Candlemass, especially after the success of Death Magic Doom and King of the Grey Islands. I do enjoy the classic albums featuring Messiah Marcolin (though his vibrato was a bit much at times) but I don’t think Lowe or Marcolin could match the powerful pipes of Johan Langquist, the session vocalist featured on Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. That dude ruled. One of the most alluring aspects of Candlemass has always been their operatic singers, so new guy Mats Leven must be presumably awesome.

Per Wiberg’s signature Hammond organ styling is featured on “Siren Song,” where he even plays the lead beginning at 2:25. Closer “Black as Time” starts with the sound of a ticking clock and a cynical spoken word piece on the cold and unforgiving nature of time. “Time is the sword of destruction, a faceless conqueror, the master of DOOM.” Only Candlemass could so eloquently capture the fatalism of time. This may be the swansong of these doom legends, and if so, they are finishing with grace and power, offering an album chock full of fist-pumping riffs and profound lyrical dissertations. We can only hope that they’ve got another one left in `em.