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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Candlemass

King of the Grey Islands

Review by Mike Korn

I have no trouble declaring Sweden's Candlemass the best pure metal band on the planet right now. They have mastered their sound so thoroughly and risen above all obstacles in their path with such resolve that there is really no one to compare. Their canon of great albums and songs is virtually untouchable and after Black Sabbath, no band has made such a mark on gloomy, morose heavy metal.

The latest mountain for Candlemass to climb was the departure of their charismatic long-time frontman Messiah Marcolin. To say the least, Marcolin was one of the most unique frontmen in metal and his rich, quavering contralto was a huge part of Candlemass' appeal. How could such a focal point be replaced? Well, Candlemass have managed to do it by acquiring the services of American singer Robert Lowe, the lead vocalist of doom legends Solitude Aeturnus. Solitude is probably the only American band that can be mentioned in the same breath as Candlemass. Lowe steps right in and makes his first album with Candlemass a classic. His melodic, sometimes eerie vocals are not as overpowering as Marcolin's but they weave their own depressing spell. It certainly doesn't hurt that the band has come up with some of their strongest riffs and songcraft to back him up.

Majestic, haunting, brutal...those are just some of the terms I would use to describe King of the Grey Islands. This band does more than thrive on adversity...they use it to take themselves to a higher level.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Prologue
The name is not very inventive but this brief acoustic guitar piece already shows some of the mystery and melancholy that typifies the Candlemass sound.
Emperor of the Void
Yow, this kicks in with a ton of wah-wah guitar soloing and an aggressive drum beat, creating a kind of early Sabbath feel which soon gives way to a mountainous slab of thick guitar. It's immediately apparent how easily Rob Lowe fits into the Candlemass scheme. His vocals and lyrics match the tune like a sword slides into its scabbard. Mats Bjorkman, one of the most underrated guitarists in the biz, cuts loose with a wild howling solo in the middle of this epic. This is another Candlemass classic - get ready for more!
Devil Seed
Doomier and more ominous than "Emperor of the Void,” this is crushing, depressing metal with a hint of organ to accentuate the darkness. The riffing is very simple yet oh so memorable...the chorus has a hint of Oriental music to it, a Candlemass trademark. Things quicken just a bit to a tank-like mid-pace and the tune blossoms from its simple beginnings into a showcase of various powerful hooks and tasteful soloing before returning to the original theme.
Of Stars and Smoke
This is a beautiful track, it's what epic doom metal is all about. Very old school, this has a feeling that hearkens back to the very first Candlemass record Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. What really makes the cut is the wonderfully sad and melodic chorus - so lovely and haunting. Lowe really outdoes himself here and establishes beyond the shadow of a doubt that he's the man for this job. Bjorkman's solo is also a thing of beauty. This is a cut to rank with "Samaritan" and "Bearer of Sorrow" as the band's best.
Demonia 6
A bit more up-tempo, this showcases the power of Jan Lindh's drumming. This cut is based around the repetition of a riff which is hammered into the brain with hypnotic intensity. Some may find the repetition boring, but I think it creates a lot of tension here and builds and builds into a very powerful climax. Lowe's vocals are more stressed and the whole song has a feeling of something stalking you with relentless intent. A very heavy cut, this shakes up the Candlemass formula a bit while remaining true to the core sound.
Destroyer
The avalanche of suffocating doom continues as you are buried under a massive wall of guitars. Ponderous and lumbering, this is heavy with a capital “H” - classic doom metal. I have to make the comparison to Sabbath again, because that was another band that had the knack of coming up with dark, simple but unforgettable guitar riffs that envelop and smother the listener. There's a bit more emphasis on twin guitar work this time, as Bjorkman and Lasse Johanson dole out some very depressing licks. There's a false ending to the song and then it kicks back in with riffs that are even more catchy and more gloomy - great stuff!
Man of Shadows
The first half of this song is the most "typical" Candlemass on the disc, based on a simple riff and not really making a huge impression. However, in the second half, a very haunting vocal refrain makes its presence known, along with a great bluesy guitar solo that gives the song a very traditional rock feeling. This is a tune that is merely very good, not great.
Clearsight
This has a lot of drive and aggression and reminds me of tracks like "Black Dwarf" and "Born In A Tank" from the band's excellent self-titled album. Lowe's vocals are much more dramatic and emotional here, matching the power of the tune. This cut is an excellent driving head-banger that would be great live.
The Opal City
A brief heavy instrumental with a very doomy, crushing feel to it, this serves as a direct lead-in to the next track.
Embracing the Styx
It's hard to find word to describe this monumental epic of doom metal art...it may very well be the ultimate Candlemass song. Lowe's vocals relate the tale of a dead soul's journey across the Greek river of the dead. The chorus is awesome, but the tune features so many killer riffs and embodies all the aspects of Candlemass. The track would have fit on the Ancient Dreams album with no problem at all. Just listen to the ultra-heavy and creepy bass solo by mastermind Leif Edling to get an idea what true doom is all about. A ghostly choir of voices adds to the gloom. This is the perfect melancholy capper to yet another Candlemass classic.
 
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