Candlemass Interview with Leif Edling: Temples Built and Temples Burning

One faces the prospect of a “final” Candlemass album as one might face a gallows, and yet, it’s hard to imagine bassist, founder and principle songwriter Leif Edling would have it any other way. For nigh on 30 frickin’ years, Candlemass has produced some of the genre’s most essential doom, whether it was helping to pave the way for Sabbathian traditionalism on their 1986 debut, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, infusing a sense of majesty onto 1989’s Tales of Creation, or returning to reclaim their thorned throne with 2005’s Candlemass reunion outing.

That’s a pretty long gap, 1989 to 2005, and that goes to show that if time has been anything to Candlemass, it’s been turbulent. They changed frontmen after Epicus, bringing Messiah Marcolin in to replace session vocalist Johan Längquist — with whom they’d later reunite for a special 25th anniversary set at Roadburn in 2011 delayed a year by, what else, a volcano — and ’90s era offerings like Chapter VI (1992), Dactylis Glomerata (1998) and From the 13th Sun (1999) never managed to capture quite the same spirit as their counterparts of the 1980s. Candlemass broke up in the mid-’90s while Edling pursued his Abstrakt Algebra project, and despite a few live releases and compilations that followed From the 13th Sun, it wouldn’t be until 2005 that the band really got its footing back.

Even when they did, the tumult continued. Marcolin — thought by many to be an essential component in the band’s sound — was unceremoniously removed from the picture as the band made ready to follow-up the self-titled, and Texas native Robert Lowe of Solitude Aeturnus was brought in as his replacement. The resulting King of the Grey Islands (2007) was a triumph, and 2009’s Death Magic Doom found Candlemass touring the US for the first time in more than two decades, but it was also their last album for Nuclear Blast. Shortly after it was announced they’d signed to Napalm Records, word followed that Psalms for the Dead (released today, June 8, and reviewed here) would be the last Candlemass record.

And even that wasn’t the end of the drama. Last Saturday, June 2, the band broke the news that Lowe, in turn, was out of Candlemass, would be replaced for all subsequent tours by Mats Levén — who nearly took the spot in the wake of the fallout with Marcolin and who also sings for Edling‘s ongoing second band, Krux — and that Hammond organist Per Wiberg (ex-Opeth, Spiritual Beggars) would also be joining for live shows. So, if nothing else, Candlemass earns plenty of points for consistency.

The interview that follows took place May 17, on what was announced as the only press day Edling would be doing for the album, so the Lowe situation had yet to unfold, but the discussion did turn to the band’s development with the singer over the course of his three LPs with them, what went into the decision to have Psalms for the Dead be their last record, who’s doing the voiceover on closer “Black as Time,” just what inspired “Dancing in the Temple (Of the Mad Queen Bee),” their Roadburn set with Längquist, his plans for when the band is done, a recent run-in with counterfeit Sabbath memorabilia, and more.

You’ll find the complete Q&A here after the jump. Please enjoy.

After nearly 30 years doing Candlemass, do you feel like any one record could sum up the band’s career?

No, I don’t think so, and I don’t think we’re trying to, either. Because people that hear the new album, I’m pretty sure they are aware of Epicus and Nightfall and, I’m pretty sure some new fans of metal can listen to a song like “Prophet” or other tracks and like it, and when people say it’s Candlemass, they will say, “Oh, it’s them! Okay, alright!” I think when people hear the word Candlemass, they get like, “Oh, this band is ancient.” So I think it’s impossible for us even to try to put everything into one album. I think that would be impossible for us, to sum a 30-year career up in one album. But on the other hand, it contains everything that’s Candlemass, so I don’t know. The record doesn’t sound like it was recorded in 1986 – it sounds pretty fresh – so that’s maybe the best compliment I’ve had during these interviews. That a lot of people say the album sounds fresh. That’s a great compliment for me. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, I don’t feel fresh, man (laughs).

The way I was thinking about it in listening was the final piece of a trilogy that started with King of the Grey Islands and Death Magic Doom. The last piece of that.

I think it’s a quadrology, actually.

Including the self-titled?

Yeah. Because that’s the four albums we did after the reunion. To me they connect, totally. I cannot see it like three albums and one album. It’s impossible for me, because each album is a reaction out of the other album. To me, this is the last one of the four.

Did you know when you were writing these songs that this was going to be the last record?

Oh yeah, absolutely. We had a big meeting. A big, long band meeting, almost a year ago, last summer, and we discussed everything and if we should make a new album or if we should not make a new album, because we were really, really pleased with Death Magic Doom, and we thought that it would be pretty difficult to top Death Magic Doom and do something better than that. So it was like nobody expected a new album. We didn’t really know what to do, and we were discussing back and forth. I said, “I can try to write some songs, but it cannot sound like Death Magic Doom. It has to sound different. We have to do something. We cannot copy that album,” because King of the Grey Islands sounded a little bit darker than the white, reunion album, and Death Magic Doom sounded a little bit more metal than King of the Grey Islands, so you have to do something different with the fourth and the last one.

What were you going for this time?

Just something that wasn’t Death Magic Doom, basically. I just wrote out of the blue, sitting here in the sofa with a guitar. I was just writing riffs for like three months, and thinking about what to do and in September, we were trying riffs and song ideas in the rehearsal room, and people really liked what they heard. They really liked the idea I had for “Prophet,” the opening track. They really liked the “Waterwitch” riff and the ideas I had for “The Lights of Thebe,” with the keyboard stuff, and then I came up with “Dancing in the Temple,” and they said, “Oh yeah,” but now we have “Prophet.” We didn’t do anything like that on Death Magic Doom, and “Dancing in the Temple” is just so timeless. It doesn’t sound like anything on DMD either. And then I knew, shit, maybe we can do it. It was pretty much like not trying to top Death Magic Doom (laughs).

Is that common for you, to go into a songwriting process saying that you just don’t want to repeat yourself?

Absolutely. Every time. I think very hard on what to do and what not to do, because you need to have a reason to do an album. I need to have a very good reason why shall I do this album? Why shall I put nearly a year of work into something? I question myself over and over and over again, and a lot of bands out there, they don’t seem to ask that question at all (laughs). Why are we making an album? I don’t know. I thought by not trying to top Death Magic Doom, maybe that’s the reason to make one last album and go official with it, letting people know that, “Okay, this is the last album, and it’s a damn good one,” and we’re gonna be out there, and play live and say goodbye to people and all the fans all over the world. And make this the last chapter of Candlemass. If we stop playing in one year, or two years, or three years or four or five years, it doesn’t matter, really. We have nothing to prove as a band. We’ve done pretty much everything. We released a couple of really classic albums, and we played everywhere, all the festivals, all the big festivals too. We had a Grammy and everything. I don’t think we have anything to prove anymore. I feel pretty good about that. It takes the pressure off your shoulders.

You mentioned “Dancing in the Temple (Of the Mad Queen Bee).”

That’s a ridiculous title, isn’t it (laughs)?

It is. What’s the story behind that song?

That’s a good story, because I was in London with my girlfriend on vacation last summer in July, and we had this true tourism, and we visited a couple of museums. Museums are free in England, and so we went to Tate Modern and Tate Gallery, and I saw this painting of Richard Dadd, the famous “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” painting that inspired Freddie Mercury to write that track, which I love. And when I saw the painting live, in the museum, I was like, “Fucking hell! This is fucking amazing!” and I think it’s even better than the “Mona Lisa.” I went to see “Mona Lisa” two years ago and it’s fantastic, but this is like something else. This is a madman’s masterpiece. The guy was sitting in an asylum painting for seven years before he was done, and it really inspired me when I came back home to do “Dancing in the Temple of the Mad Queen Bee.” So I got the inspiration from this weird fairy tale painting. And, you know, it gives you a free canvas to work on, and it’s stupid lyrics and everything, but it kind of works. For me, anyway, because I’m not English (laughs). So I apologize for that, for you that actually has to hear what we sing about, but it worked with Robert, so maybe it works. The song is great, anyway. I love it. Three and a half minutes, maybe one of the shortest Candlemass tracks, and it features so many different things in it. Three guitar solos. I like that one a lot.

It definitely stands out. Because of the lyrics and just because it’s so short.

No dead moments in that one. I crammed a lot of things into three and a half minutes. That’s an achievement in itself, I think.

Can you talk a little bit about the evolution of the band with Robert on vocals, this being the third and last album? How do you feel like that process of working with him has changed since you did King of the Grey Islands?

I think he has grown into the band. We have an expression in Sweden that he’s “warm in his clothes.” Do you have that saying in English? I think he’s more used to the Swedish way. Because he’s American. It wasn’t too big a cultural shock when he joined, but it’s a thing with learning to know people. With every album. I think he did a terrific job on King of the Grey Islands. He wasn’t even in Sweden and he did a great job. He was even better on Death Magic Doom. And on this one he delivers his best work ever, I think. Honestly. Some of his vocals on this album still give me goosebumps just thinking about it, because he sings with a lot of feeling and passion on the album, and some of the stuff, like the title-track for example, he sounds incredible on that one. So I think he feels more welcome in the band and it helps when we have like two weeks to work on his vocals instead of five days (laughs). That’s quite a difference. When we can be here for a couple of weeks, go back to some vocals one day and maybe next day try something else and really work on everything. I think it was a good thing for him to be here. He was here for two months this time. He was in the studio. He came there and some days, he didn’t sing and some days he felt he had the inspiration so he could do one tune or two tracks, and then he didn’t sing for another day and just listened to the stuff, feeling the songs. I think it was a very, very good recording process, this time.

Whose voiceover is that on “Black as Time?”

His name is Mark Roberton. He’s a teacher in business English in Stockholm, and I think he had exactly the right approach and attitude in that little narration he’s doing. When I talked to him and he asked, “So, what do you want from me? How do you want me to sound?” and I said to him, “Do you know Hawkwind? Do you know [Robert] Calvert and [Michael] Moorcock and their narration stuff?” and he said, “Yeah, I grew up with that stuff!” So he knew exactly what we wanted, and he also knew about Alice Cooper and Black Widow too, what Vincent Price, what he’s doing on the Black Widow thing. That was what we were after, and I think he nailed it, actually. I love that part.

I thought it was a cool way to end.

Yeah. A little piece about time and the effects of time and the press of time and the absence of time too. You feel yourself running out.

Did you know what song was going to end the album when you wrote it?

No. I kind of had a vague thought about it, but still, when you write the songs, you have no clue, man. I have no clue, because I just write. “Prophet.” I thought “Prophet” would maybe be the end track, the ending of the album, but the other guys loved it so much, so we said, “Okay, it’s going to be the opening track instead,” and then I came up with “Black as Time,” and you really need to feel the flow of an album, so you cannot really say that, “Oh, this song has to be second on the B-side and this song has to end the first side,” because when you rehearse the songs, when you record them and when you mix them, sometimes they turn out completely different than what you expect. I had a few surprises when we mixed and recorded (laughs), but fortunately, “Black as Time” turned out exactly as I wanted it, and I think it’s a really, really fitting end to the album. But, still, I don’t know. Some people say that maybe they were expecting a really, really heavy, long track. A few of my friends said it, “But shouldn’t you end with a 10-minute, really heavy song like ‘Heaven and Hell’ or something?” But we always do that, so why not try something else instead now, and when the riff comes in after the narration, it’s like a freight train, that riff. And I love it. But it also becomes really heavy when he sings “Time is black,” and when the time piece comes back at the end of the song. I think it’s a really, really good ending to the album, and hopefully we can do it live too. That would be fucking great, to do it. Maybe do it as the first encore or maybe the last song in the set or something like that. I would love to do it. I think it would be perfect as a live track. As “Prophet,” or as “Dancing in the Temple.” I think “Waterwitch” will be fantastic live, or “The Lights of Thebe.” Because now we will travel with a keyboard player, so we can do those songs and make them justice now.

I was lucky enough to be able to see the set you did at Roadburn last year. What was that experience like for you?

I loved it. The thing with the set was that we really wanted to two sets because we really wanted to play some songs from Death Magic Doom too and to perform with Robert as well, and not just do one nostalgia show, just doing Epicus. So the set became like two hours or 2:15 or something like that, and when we discussed it with Walter, the Roadburn promoter, he said, “Why not open the festival on the Saturday?” like a headlining act, but you are the first band out. I thought that was a pretty good idea, actually, because then people really, they’re not drunk and they can listen to what we’re doing on stage. So in a way, it was weird, because normally you have people that are half-drunk or want to have a good time or be entertained or whatever, and that’s fantastic, but this time, I think it was a good thing, because you could see all the 2,200 people were standing there and they were listening to what we were doing. I really liked that. I wouldn’t like a sitting audience, don’t get me wrong, but I really like the fact that you knew the people inside that hall, they were actually listening and digging what you were doing because they were hardcore, true fans of doom and this kind of underground music. That was very special, and I loved the projections behind us. I’ve seen the gig on DVD and it looks fucking amazing, with the projections and everything behind us and what we sounded like and everything. I would say that was one of the highlights for me, during the past years. I really liked that gig, and I really liked Roadburn as a festival and as a phenomenon as well. If you want to discover music. If you’re curious of good music, underground, heavy music, just go to Roadburn. Buy a ticket and go there and just go between the different stages and discover new and exciting bands. I would love to do that maybe next year. After the show, we went out and we tried to see as many bands as possible. It was great. Fantastic festival. It’s amazing that every, every year he can come up with an exciting bill (laughs).

Is there any chance you guys will tour the US one more time?

I hope so, man. I really hope so. We like to be in the States. We would love to go. It’s a little bit early yet to plan a tour, because the album is not out yet and the album is too late to do the summer festivals, because people haven’t heard the album yet, so we’re now planning for the autumn, and hopefully one band we’re discussing with is Angel Witch, so hopefully that can happen. We haven’t come to next year yet (laughs), so we’re planning the autumn now. Hopefully after Xmas we will come to the States and hopefully do South America as well. I would love to go to Japan, Australia. That’s two territories we haven’t been to yet. I would love to go to Japan. With the last album, we hope we can have the opportunity to play places we haven’t been. That is one of the goals for Candlemass with this album. Hopefully, hopefully, hopefully.

Do you have any sense of what you’ll do when Candlemass is done?

I don’t know. That is so far ahead of time. It can be in five years, or in 10 years, so I have no idea. But I’m pretty sure we’ll do another Krux album sometime in the future, in three years’ time or four years’ time (laughs), or something like that. But we just did a Krux album and this Candlemass album took almost a year from idea to finished product. I’m sure I won’t be doin.g an album this year or next year, so that’s something for the future, but I’m a pretty creative person, so I’m sure I’m gonna write another album in some way or the other. It’s fun to make music, but it takes time (laughs). Sometimes.

Before I let you go, any recent acquisitions to your Sabbath collection?

Ah! Um, I don’t know. It’s pretty rare that I see something that, you know, you need to have it. I had one of those moments like two months ago, when they had something like an EP. A four-track promo EP of the first album, first Black Sabbath album, or if it was an acetate. Four tracks, “Black Sabbath,” “N.I.B.,” “Sleeping Village” and “Evil Woman” or something like that. And I was like, “Okay, I have to go get a bank loan.” But I know dealers. I’m very, very good friends with some dealers and traders – people that know the business more than I do – and they said that it’s a counterfeit. And I said, “Well, it looks kind of old,” and they said that’s how they do it. They said a Sex Pistols EP from the first album had been in circulation, and maybe it was AC/DC too, I don’t know. But they said they were 99.9 percent sure that this piece was a counterfeit, and I was like, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You saved my life. You saved my summer! You saved my vacation and my whole year by saying this.” I’m pretty sure that some poor bastard bought that for like – I think it went for $3,000-4,000, and that’s scary. For a counterfeit. But people don’t know, because people are clever, how they do things nowadays. They make them a little bit worn, a little bit yellowish (laughs), and maybe just scratch it a little bit too.

Candlemass’ official website

Napalm Records

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One Response to “Candlemass Interview with Leif Edling: Temples Built and Temples Burning”

  1. Jonathan says:

    Great interview. Great record. I am very disappointed to see Robert leave the band.

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