Review Summary: Candlemass team up with Rob Lowe of Solitude Aeturnus for one of their bleakest albums yet.
The common belief in music is that anytime a singer is rotated out of a band, they can’t be good anymore. Not really a belief actually, it’s more of a meme. While there are certainly examples to support such an idea, there are just as many to contradict it. One notable example of the latter is Candlemass.
They’ve gone through multiple vocalists in their time with mixed results, though the classic voice was always considered to be the operatic vibrato of Messiah Marcolin. Despite having a face like a catcher’s mitt with eyes and a white-boy ‘fro so huge one had to believe he had a whole colony of elves living in it, Messiah had a superb voice and compelling stage presence. His “mad monk” persona fit in perfectly with the epic themes and soundscapes of early Candlemass.
Messiah departed to work on his project Memento Mori, but later rejoined the band in 2003 for one last album, a self-titled LP that turned out to be one of their most diverse. Of course, he then left again in 2006, leaving Candlemass looking for a new singer.
Now, one may be thinking that this could very well mean the end of Candlemass. After all, a classic vocalist departed so they can’t possibly be good anymore, right"
Wrong. Enter vocalist Rob Lowe of Solitude Aeternus. Rob provides a great departure from the quaking howls of his predecessor. The best way I can describe him is a cross between Ronnie James Dio, Daniel Heiman, and an H.P. Lovecraft protagonist. Forsaking the refined, Classical elements of Messiah, Rob instead has a raspy wail that bespeaks madness and despair with every pained note.
One thing that you may notice about King of the Grey Islands is a departure from much of the religious symbolism that marked early Candlemass. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still there in songs such as Devil Seed
and Demonia 6
, but as the title of the album would suggest, there is a stronger focus now on legends, myths, and dark tales. In particular, suicide is a pervasive motif throughout the lyrics made clear in songs such as Embracing the Styx
The characteristic lumbering riffs and gibbering solos are still there. Though the album has less diversity to it than the previous self-titled album. This is perhaps the only true flaw to the album, but it sometimes comes with the territory of doom metal. It’s the crushing repetition and bleakness that the atmosphere hinges on. Not to say that there aren’t some interesting moments that break up the monotony. Embracing the Styx
and Man of Shadows
for example include some highly unusual breaks midway through the songs.
The overall feeling of depression and madness is what truly marks this album. Rob’s voice shifts seamlessly from dirge-like mourning to be desperate screams again and again, and he shows equally diverse emotional facets. He plays the mad tyrant in Emperor of the Void
as adeptly as he does the bloodthirsty bogeyman in Destroyer
and the sailor of the damned ship Clearsight
The emphasis on fantasy is something that’s always helped Candlemass stand out, creating an entire mythos of doom and despair. Rather than using introspection, lyricist Lief Edling’s specialty is in allegorical tales to convey his themes. King of the Grey Islands is certainly no exception. And while not technically a concept album, one could make a case for it being highly thematic. After the gloomy acoustic Prologue
, the band kick straight in to Emperor of the Void
describing the titular king. The last lines of Embracing the Styx
make vague references that seem to tie back to this opening song. One begins to see further connections throughout, creating a Lovecraftian mythos within the album.
King of the Grey Islands recalls Ancient Dreams and Nightfall era Candlemass particularly well in tracks such as Of Smoke and Stars
, which is one of the stand-out tracks on the album. Embracing the Styx
and Devil Seed
showcase the classic sound as well, without sounding like rehashes of earlier material.
While not Candlemass’ strongest release, it does represent a positive new influence. The band obviously still have a lot of good material left in them, and the addition of Rob Lowe to the mix brings about a new dimension to the music, which may bring about a lot of great music in the coming albums.
If you’re a doom metal fan looking for a new album, I highly recommend this. However, if you are new to Candlemass, I would recommend buying Nightfall, Ancient Dreams, or the self-titled first before getting into this. Fans of Solitude Aeternus will want to check this out as well.
Embracing the Styx
Of Smoke and Stars