Friday, June 29, 2012

Review: Candlemass - Psalms For The Dead (2012)

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Psalms For The Dead

Candlemass - Psalms For The Dead
Long considered to be doom metal legends and the standard by which all doom newcomers are measured, Sweden's Candlemass has nevertheless been plagued by internal strife (disbanding in 1994 and 2002) and less-than-inspired album releases (Dactylis Glomerata comes to mind). Late in 2011, the band announced that the final chapter of the Candlemass story would be the band's 11th studio album, Psalms For The Dead, followed by an epic farewell tour.  If, after 28 years, the end is truly here for one of heavy metal's most influential outfits, Psalms For The Dead is a respectable final act. But not a great one.

For dedicated fans of the band, and pure doom in general, Psalms For The Dead is rife with gargantuan riffs, plodding passages, and woeful vocals. Lowe, who also fronts doom stalwarts Solitude Aeternus, delivers a resoundingly genuine performance throughout the album. His refreshing adherence to singing the lyrics, rather than grunting or shrieking them, is in itself an album highlight. There are moments where a bit of vocal experimentation sneaks in, such as the monastic chanting on "The Sound Of Dying Demons" and the slightly unsettling whispers on "Prophet", but by and large Lowe's voice is left to shine on its own merits.

Another common thread that ties the nine tracks of Psalms For The Dead together is the abundant use of the Hammond organ, courtesy of guest musician Per Wiberg. Used most often to lend a '70s atmosphere to songs like the lyrically ridiculous "Dancing In The Temple (Of The Mad Queen Bee)", the keys also provide a rather spacey intro to "The Lights Of Thebe" as well as a lush background for the classic metal leads of "Prophet". In only one instance does Wiberg get a little carried away with tickling the ivories, as "Siren Song" is overwhelmingly keyboard driven - even to the point of featuring an organ solo. Another instrument that gives Psalms For The Dead a nice retro polish is the theremin. On "The Sound Of Dying Demons", the use of the instrument is confined to lending an eerie, classic horror film ambiance. The album's final track also incorporates theremin passages, but the effect is much more distracting than complimentary.

What would doom metal be without grandiose, weighty riffs? Mats Björkman and Lars Johansson craft some truly inspiring riffs, which Johansson punctuates with rather complex and always groovy solos. It's in the guitar tone that Candlemass resurrects their classic metal sound, be it a Sabbath-like tritone or a Maiden-esque twin guitar harmony. The six-string skill evident on the title track and the mildly thrashy "Black As Time" make each stand out as highlights, with the latter song also providing - during its 90-second spoken word intro - my favorite line: "Time, quite frankly, doesn't give a shit". Indeed.

Taken just as the latest Candlemass release, Psalms For The Dead is an enjoyable album that hits all of the doom metal prerequisites while still finding room to experiment. As what may very well be the final album of one of metal's legendary bands, though, it isn't the grand finale that fans might expect.

Track Listing
2The Sound Of Dying Demons5:38
3Dancing In The Temple (Of The Mad Queen Bee)3:44
5The Lights Of Thebe5:57
6Psalms For The Dead5:22
7The Killing Of The Sun4:17
8Siren Song6:03
9Black As Time6:54
Total Runtime51:19

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