Candlemass, The Door to Doom: Welcome Company

candlemass the door to doom

It’s not that having Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath do a guest spot on guitar with Candlemass isn’t a big deal. And the solo he donates to “Astorolus (The Great Octopus)” is true to form in its multiple layers and ensuing doomly vibe. He’s Tony Iommi, and if his presence turns heads to The Door to Doom, which is Candlemass‘ 12th studio full-length and second for Napalm Records, then all the better. But as the Swedish epic doom progenitors return with their first LP since 2012’s Psalms for the Dead (review here) — though they’ve also had live outings out since and two EPs in last year’s House of Doom (discussed here) and 2016’s Death Thy Lover (review here) — the focus on that one guitar solo takes away from the real lead of the record when it comes to narrative, which is the return of vocalist Johan Längquist to the fold.

Since the band’s reunion from the abyss of hiatus 14 years ago with their self-titled eighth album, they’ve worked with three frontmen. On that outing was Messiah Marcolin, a frontman’s frontman, whose voice helped propel Candlemass to their legendary status in the late ’80s. He didn’t last. By the time the follow-up came around, it was Robert Lowe of Solitude Aeturnus in the singer role, fronting the hurried-but-righteous King of the Grey Islands in 2007 and 2009’s Death Magic Doom (review here), which was positioned at the time as the band’s last album.

It wasn’t. Lowe split circa 2012 and on Death Thy Lover it was journeyman vocalist Mats Levén — who’d been in the running for the job when Lowe came aboard in the first place — taking on the role. However — and that’s a big “however” — Candlemass in celebration of the 25th anniversary of their debut album, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, reunited with Längquist for a one-off show playing the LP in full at Roadburn in the Netherlands. The set was later released on vinyl through Svart as Epicus Doomicus Metallicus: Live at Roadburn 2011 (review here). I was there. It was a glorious show, with Lowe starting out on some newer stuff and then Längquist arriving to take over, and no disrespect to Lowe — whose voice is of Dio-esque caliber; not a compliment I hand out lightly — but Längquist was such a perfect fit with the rest of the band that the obvious question even as they were playing was, “Why the hell isn’t this guy in this band?”

Well, with The Door to Doom, he is. Steering Candlemass, as always, is Leif Edling. The band’s founding bassist and principle songwriter, he’s responsible over the course of more than 30 years for some of doom’s most resilient landmarks. He’s the reason they’ve survived so much tumult as regards frontmen, and his craft is on high display here, from opener “Splendor Demon Majesty” through the final lumber of “The Omega Circle.” And the story of The Door to Doom, even more than the 60 seconds dominated by Iommi, is the reunion between Längquist and Edling.

That’s not to take away from the contributions of guitarists Mats “Mappe” Björkman (rhythm) and Lars “Lasse” Johansson (lead) or drummer Jan Lindh — all of whom have been in the band at least three decades for as much as there’s been a band to be in — but the performance Längquist gives atop the grand riffing of “Under the Ocean” or the quiet and moody “Bridge of the Blind,” which provides a comedown moment coming out of the appropriately massive “Astorolus (The Great Octopus),” is nothing if not the standout it’s intended to be, and Edling‘s songwriting also seems to rise to the occasion, be that in the catchy side B launch “Death’s Wheel” or “Splendor Demon Majesty” at the outset or “House of Doom,” repurposed here (and re-recorded, obviously) from the EP of the same name to serve as the penultimate, organ-topped nodder ahead of “The Omega Circle,” which rounds out.

candlemass (photo Anders Palsson)

And not for nothing, but the solos Johansson adds to “House of Doom,” “Death’s Wheel” and the particularly Dehumanizer-esque “Black Trinity” go toe-to-toe with that on “Astorolus (The Great Octopus),” and I know there’s only one Tony Iommi, but there’s only one Candlemass as well, and they’re absolutely on fire in these tracks. The Door to Doom sounds revitalized and fully charged, and even as the cover art ties it directly to Epicus Doomicus Metallicus with its iconic impaled devil-skull design, the band seems only ready to move forward.

They’re not trying to recapture 1986 — and they don’t need to. They’re relishing their position as overlords of what doom has become in their wake. They take their time through the quiet intros to “Under the Ocean” or “The Omega Circle,” knowing their own strength in setting a mood for the epic riffing to come, and when that closer hits, it’s about not even about Edling or Längquist, but about the entire band. There’s a reason why the cliché is “firing on all cylinders,” and The Door to Doom gives a fervent example of what that sounds like. It has the poise and stately feel of Candlemass‘ experience and long-since-attained maturity of approach, but even as it taps into classic styles, dipping to acoustic in the midsection of “The Omega Circle” to mirror “Bridge of the Blind” at the end of side A in summary of the album as a whole, its overarching feel is refreshed and refreshing in kind. No question that when 2019 is done, The Door to Doom will stand among its finest doom albums.

The danger, of course, is that it’s Candlemass‘ last. That’s always the danger with Candlemass, and sometimes it happens. It’s worth nothing that the break between full-lengths between Psalms for the Dead and The Door to Doom, at seven years, is longer than when they “broke up” after 1999’s From the 13th Sun and didn’t put out another LP until Candlemass in 2005. Change has long been a factor for the band, but that’s all the more reason to enjoy the triumph that is The Door to Doom — because it might not last. It might be a one-off with Längquist, and it might be more than half a decade before they put out another record, if they do at all. Something about the idea of “coming full circle” and reuniting with their first singer seems very much in Edling‘s wheelhouse in bringing the band to close.

Listening to these songs, one only hopes that’s not how it plays out, and Candlemass continue to explore the doomed reaches with their original frontman, adding an essential and unexpected chapter to their story that they’ve given such a righteous beginning here. Recommended.

Candlemass, The Door to Doom (2019)

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