You Are Bewitched: The Legacy of Candlemass

Next week, Swedish doom giants Candlemass will be opening The Door To Doom and treating us to a new full-length, and in a surprising turn, it will see Epicus Doomicus Metallicus singer Johan Langquist return to the fold a full eleven albums and 32 years later. This development, alongside a new single featuring a guest appearance from Tony Iommi, has seen the release be set up as an unmissable testament to the legacy of doom. As with most Leif Edling releases, the result delivers, even if Langquist’s highs aren’t quite the soaring behemoth they once were, but if you come to Candlemass for dramatic epics like ‘The Well Of Souls’ and ‘Solitude’, you’re better off listening to every pre-, well, the ‘90s.

Like most metal bands that have been around as long as Candlemass, the road has not always been smooth. There’s the long list of different members and vocalists (staff turnover during the band’s 1997–2002 stint was particularly turbulent); there’s Dactylis Glomerata, a psychedelic stoner album that was only a Candlemass album because label politics decreed it so; and the band’s last full-length outing, 2012’s Psalms For The Dead, which felt a tad like flogging a dead horse. The Door To Doom, then, would appear to be billed as somewhat of a comeback after a string of mildly successful EPs with Mats Levén on vocals.

We’ve been down this road before, of course. Fan favourite Messiah Marcolin returned for the band’s self-titled album in 2005, a solid statement of intent that soon dissipated as Marcolin left once again. And so, regardless of how The Door To Doom goes down with fans, it’s unlikely to be revered the way Candlemass’ early discography is amongst doom aficionados.

There is an energy captured in the group’s early work that is yet to be replicated, even amongst modern day acts who so clearly owe much of their sound to them. If there’s one band truly worthy of the title ‘epic doom metal’ that’s so frequently divvied out, it’s Candlemass. Back in the late ‘80s, at a time when metal was dominated by thrash and (sigh) glam, the band took the slow powerful riffs of prime Iommi, filtered them through a lens of proto-doom progenitors like Witchfinder General, Saint Vitus, Trouble and Pentagram who had released music in the first half of the decade and, most importantly, applied grand, operatic vocals to the underlying riffs.

32 years ago, Langquist’s first album with the group proved to become a cornerstone of the doom genre. Listening to Epicus Doomicus Metallicus now the influence of Sabbath is clear, from the Iommi-inspired heavy blues structure of the riffs to the vocals that dial up the drama of Dio’s stint at the helm of the Godfathers of Metal. Though it’s often claimed that the album instantly secured the band’s place as legends, Edling notes that it sold poorly upon release and got its fair share of negative reviews. Nevertheless, it would prove to (eventually) be monumental in its impact, carving out its own niche that future bands would strive to emulate. Some even attribute the origins of the term ‘doom metal’ solely to the album.

It saw the band depart from the hard rock and metal that was being made in Sweden at the time, and do for the country’s doom scene what Bathory did for its extreme metal scene. ‘Solitude’ will rightfully be known as a classic for years to come, but the album’s quality in general is also commendable. The gigantic intro to ‘Under The Dark’ is herculean in scope, ‘Crystal Ball’ showcased just how effective the slow riffs-epic vocals template could be at creating a mystical atmosphere, and Cille Svenson’s haunting vocals on closer ‘A Sorceror’s Pledge’ are truly beguiling. Epicus… was a masterpiece, but the band did not know just how important it would be yet.

Somehow, the follow-up would prove even more impressive. Langquist, alongside guitarist Klas Bergwall and drummer Matz Ekström, wouldn’t see out its completion. Black Dragon Records too would bail, and the way forward must surely have seemed bleak. But, having secured some standing already, the band signed with newcomers Axis and recruited three powerhouse musicians in Marcolin, guitarist Lars Johansson and drummer Jan Lindh. The result was Nightfall, an absolute wonder of mid-tempo prowess, but most importantly a more complex and commanding album than its predecessor.

‘The Well Of Souls’ was the world’s introduction to Marcolin, the band’s robed saviour, and his operatic, thoroughly distinctive vocals certainly took centre stage, but the album is packed with classics. ‘At The Gallows End’ was a triumph, with the dramatic vocals soaring over guitars that roared menacingly, whilst the quintessential doom of ‘Samarithan’ should be placed alongside ‘Solitude’ as one of the band’s signature songs. Elsewhere, of course, is ‘Bewitched’, the track that entailed the memorable cry of “YOU ARE BEWITCHED!”, which would decades later form the basis for a host of memes and the title of this very article. Though the albums that followed it were certainly not poor, Nightfall was the band’s (possibly the entire genre’s) peak, never to be bested no matter how hard they tried.

Ancient Dreams and Tales Of Creation certainly tried their best, though. There were delectably dark delights like ‘A Cry From The Crypt’, catchier numbers like ‘Darkness In Paradise’ and the band’s resoundingly fun ‘Black Sabbath Medley’ on the former, whilst the latter, a concept album with comparatively faster tempos than past efforts, held the chaotic instrumental ‘Into The Unfathomed Tower’, as well as classics like ‘Dark Reflections’, ‘Somewhere In Nowhere’ and ‘Through The Infinitive Halls Of Death’.

Indeed, in this period, the band were on a run of form the likes of which would make any artist envious. But like that, Marcolin was gone following in-house disputes, and after one more album with Thomas Vikström, the band would – not for the first time – split up. The times that followed once the band reformed in ‘97 were often turbulent, even if there was some good material that came out of them that shouldn’t be dismissed.

Nevertheless, the momentum took a hit, but the genre the band helped shape and define would take off in their absence, and looking forward their homeland would conjure the likes of Katatonia, Opeth, Draconian, Count Raven, Witchcraft and even Ghost. The band’s unwavering stature as an indispensable name in the history of doom was cemented long before, but their legacy lives on in today’s bands and will live surely on in future projects. The Door To Doom’s quality is there for all too see when it drops on 22nd February, but wish as we might, it isn’t quite Epicus Doomicus Part II. Truthfully, that doesn’t matter. With the likes of Epicus and Nightfall in their discography, Candlemass’ standing as one of the doom genre’s distinguished names will endure no matter what.

The Door To Doom is out 22nd February on Napalm Records. Pre-order here.

Words: George Parr

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