As somebody who was in that room when it happened, I don’t so much want to listen to this vinyl as build an altar to its graces. It was Candlemass‘ 25th anniversary show at Roadburn 2011, celebrating a quarter-century since the release of the seminal Swedish doomers’ debut, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. To mark the occasion, they reunited for the first time with original signer Johan Längquist, who had never really even played with the band or done much more with them than sing on that record, and I tell you in all honesty, it was one of the best sets I’ve ever seen a band — any band — play, at Roadburn or otherwise. The Main Stage room at the 013 in Tilburg was jammed with people waiting to see what was billed as an early headlining set. Candlemass was the first act to go on that day, and they had originally been scheduled to appear in 2010, but for the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull’s eruption and subsequent disrupting of European airspace. So there they were, a year after the fact, fronted by Robert Lowe of Solitude Aeturnus and running through a string of hits, when Lowe takes a bow and moves off stage to make room for the arrival of Längquist.
Svart has done the moment justice on this 2LP set. It is a gatefold, limited to 800 copies — 400 black, 400 white — thick stock package and vinyl, three sides of music with side D an etching of the LP art, interpreted from the original Epicus cover by Erik Rovanperä. In look and in sound, it is a reverential artifact of that set. Two songs appear on each of the three sides, with the recordings helmed by Astrosoniq drummer and habitual captor of Roadburns Marcel van de Vondervoort as well as Robi de Lorijn, running in the standard album order, and live photos are included from in front of the stage, the band donating brief quotes of memories about playing along the bottom of the gatefold, bassist and principle songwriter Leif Edling going so far as to remark that he hopes one day to release a DVD of the performance as well. I wouldn’t mind that either. Looking at it on paper beforehand, it had seemed questionable whether Längquist, who hadn’t performed with Candlemass in so long, would be able not just to pull off the material, but match presence and fit with the rest of the band — Edling, guitarists Lars Johansson and Mats “Mappe” Björkman and drummer Jan Lindh — and by the time they hit the first chorus of “Solitude,” it was clear there was no issue.
Obviously those questions are long-since answered, but to hear that version of “Solitude,” as well as “Demon’s Gate,” “Crystal Ball,” “Black Stone Wielder,” “Under the Oak” and “A Sorcerer’s Pledge” — each a classic, each essential — so clearly and crisply on this vinyl only underscores how righteously Längquist stood in for the performance. It wasn’t just special, it was also good. Of course, 25 years later, the voice changes, and the highs in “Solitude” were left there in favor of something more attainable, but Längquist‘s voice had power enough not just to step in for Lowe, but to own those songs, which other singers had been working to make their own for over two decades. By the time I get to trading out the first LP for the second to hear them close out with “Under the Oak” and “A Sorcerer’s Pledge,” the little differences between the studio versions and the live ones stand out, how Johansson tackles the solos, the pacing differences, etc., and in both spirit and presentation, it’s Candlemass playing arguably their most classic outing, front to back, celebrating their legacy in what if I’m not mistaken has been a one-time-only fashion — that is, I don’t think they’ve done it again since. Whether you saw it or not, what doomed soul wouldn’t want to bear witness to such a thing?
Edling better get moving on that DVD.