I will admit that I’m late to the party when it comes to Candlemass. Very, very late. As in . . . this year, kind of late. They’ve been around since ’84, but I’ve only been exposed to them very recently. That said, all told, I do get the direction of their artistic expression and where they like to go with it. Very Black Sabbath and I did enjoy The Door to Doom. There’s drudgy and looming atmospherics of cosmic and existential dread. The kind of stuff you put on as a background track in a horror movie acid trip. Candlemass with all sorts of metal cred and metal accolades, including a grammy nomination. They really need no lengthy or prolonged introduction. So, thick and gloomy doom metal. That’s where we’re heading.
I was recently given the opportunity by Super Metal World to review Candlemass’s upcoming release. It’s called The Pendulum, a six song EP.
To start, I love this cover art. Very old school catholic angel holding a goat skull Baphomet. I dig. Very cool. And the candle glow yellow in the design offsets with the deep crimson in the lettering. I love this sort of vintage artwork. I know I’m not alone in that. A lot of bands are finding themselves in greater fashion these days because of a recent trend in consummation of aged artistic style. Everyone wants everything to look like it was printed off an old xerox from 1975. It is a cool effect, I’ll admit. And I think it stems from a yearning for a time on Earth when things weren’t so entirely filled in. The times of Black Sabbath and hazy photography for album art were a time when the music was just fun and the evil was easy to come by because everyone didn’t have all the answers all the time with half an opinion. You didn’t dissect things for hours on end to wage war on ‘the poser next to you.’ You just put on the tunes, threw up the metal horns and tried to summon the devil.
Back when the metal and evil were easy to come by because everyone wasn’t so jaded by mass media entertainment exposure. I think some of these older bands are filling that void right now for a new crowd of metal fans that yearns for some sort of identity in that anonymity that the 70s and 80s provided. So, take from that whatever you will, but I do like the aged sounds because they stand out more. I grew up in the age of modern metal. So, hearing older sounds like Candlemass is surprisingly fresh to myself and many listeners my age.
For one, it’s the sound of actual musicians playing actual instruments into a microphone. That counts for a lot. Anyway.
So, the EP is comprised, as I understand, of outtakes and B-sides from The Door to Doom. Like I mentioned earlier, only six tracks. That doesn’t leave much to chew over, and that as the case, the review will be decidedly short. Also, I will admit, doom metal isn’t my favorite genre. But I do have the self-awareness to acknowledge that and set aside my personal biases and preferences to simply grade an artistic work on the merit of whether they accomplished what they set out to achieve. Whether something is artistically ‘good’ and whether or not I enjoy it are two different things. So. I don’t really care for doom metal, but I know what it’s trying to do and I can tell whether it’s doing it well. Everyone still with me? Cool.
The track “The Pendulum” drives the hardest out of this collection of songs, surprisingly hard for a doom metal band. This isn’t 220 BPM or anything, but it chugs like it means some business. The vocals over the top are actually really delightful and a nice departure into more vintage territory where harsh vocals meant just singing louder. You can hear the passion in this guys’ voice, for sure. He loves what he does, and that comes through in the music as a whole.
They take their time with sections and they move forward only when they’re good and ready. This is really evident on the EP’s three instrumental tracks: “Subzero,” “Aftershock,” and “The Cold Room.” So, really, when we cut this down, we’re talking about an additional three tracks, with three interludes. The interludes are interesting, “The Cold Room” feeling the most complete. And the only word that came to mind through the synth and ethereal plucks was the word CANDLEMASS. So, if I could point to a collection of sounds that I feel comprises this band, the direction they aim for, it would be “The Cold Room.” And all truth laid bare, it was probably my favorite track on the entire EP. Very gothic and chilling. Nearly painful and tragic. Great stuff.
“Subzero” and “Aftershock” are pretty forgettable and amount to little more than bass and instrumental doodles. I can forgive that for a short EP that really was probably only released for fun and to the fans who would really appreciate it and always want more new material.
Soooo . . . I’m not taking this release too seriously and I’m not letting critiques really sour me on the outing. There’s some cool tunes here and some really cool tones. “The Pendulum” being the most interesting and fleshed out idea; probably why it was the opener and the title of the work. “Snakes of Goliath” and “Porcelain Skull” seemed very repetitive and were a little hard to separate. Though, I did enjoy “Porcelain Skull” a bit more. The doom and the sludge in that track really came through for me on additional listens.
All told, this was a nifty little jaunt out of my comfort zone. It did sound like an old soundtrack to a B-reel horror movie. And I’m always down for that, even if I don’t find much there to chew on. I do appreciate that Candlemass tends to be a bit more uptempo than other doom metal veterans. This is showcased on the last minute of “Porcelain Skull” that drives into a powerful locomotive of a moment after ringing out for the first half. And that’s probably one of my biggest critiques. Other than “The Pendulum” which drives pretty steadily throughout, the energy never really becomes undeniable again other than in that moment of “Porcelain Skull,” but right when it comes to fruition, it begins to fade out in spite of itself.
Final take: There’s a collection of good moments here. There’s doom and dread, but I don’t feel that at any point it becomes colossal, which is nearly always the aim of every doom metal band at some point in whatever they offer. To become evil enough to rattle bone in their slow and grinding roll. But, this critique is forgivable and really should be taken with a grain of salt because the offering itself seems to only be supplemental and additional material which really isn’t directed at getting a full review anyway.
Listen to it, there’s some good stuff, even if you’re not a fan of doom metal or Candlemass. There’s some creepy and real sludgy. Just don’t expect too much from it and condemn it too harshly because of it. It’s nothing special, but it isn’t intended to be. It’s released as a collection of extras which is supposed to be a ‘hey, cool, dude,’ about 90% of the time.
Release Date: 3/27/20
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