After the “Godfather of Heavy Metal” Tony Iommi, no single person has done more to define doom metal than Candlemass mastermind (Candlemasstermind?) Leif Edling. It is both fitting and deserved, then, that he calls himself “The Doomfather” in the lineup of his latest project, The Doomsday Kingdom. The album comes at a time of renewed activity for Edling; Candlemass just returned last year with the Death Thy Lover EP, the first real release with vocalist Mats Levén, and Avatarium is about to release their third album in five years. While the album at hand is quite strong in most regards, it does leave one wondering if Edling is currently spreading himself a bit thin. However, the bigger question might be: Is Leif Edling properly using all the available assets at his disposal?
That question aside, The Doomsday Kingdom offers a more than satisfactory doom experience for the Edling faithful, and it starts with the lineup. Joining The Doomfather is Avatarium guitarist Marcus Jidell, journeyman drummer Andreas Johansson, and Wolf vocalist Niklas Stålvind. As with all albums of more “traditional” metal styles, the vocals will be a yes/no decider for many a listener. Stålvind’s doomy application of various stylings (a bit of Halford, a splash of Dirkschneider) ought to result in far more “yes” reactions, even if he’s often more fun and (successfully) silly than haunting.
What this lineup gets to handle is among Edling’s stronger sets of songs in recent memory, and certainly a better collection than the middling Death Thy Lover. It also seems like each song does at least one little thing to stretch out of Edling’s core doom sound. For example, opening burner “Silent Kingdom” boasts plenty of the lumbering riffs you’d expect of an Edling project, but also a fun, Maidenesque gallop during the solo section; the otherwise heavy rocking “Hand of Hell” features an almost sweet moment in the middle before Stålvind absolutely soars in his finest moment on the album; the multi-faceted “The Sceptre” features a quirky little synth passage in the middle; and closer “The God Particle” flirts with psychedelia. Still, these are all merely flairs, as everything eventually returns to huge, monolithic doom riffs.
And now to that big question above. If the strength of the album comes from the lineup, so do its limitations. For Candlemass diehards, it will be impossible to separate The Doomsday Kingdom from Edling’s main band, and the potential improvements that those boys would possibly bring to this album. The leads here are at worst respectable, and often quite nice, but Lars Johansson is a transcendent lead guitarist, bringing more gravitas to the performances on albums like Nightfall than anyone not singing, and it’s impossible to ignore his (absence) potential inclusion. Simultaneously, Stålvind’s vocal performance is typically very fun, but he doesn’t have the same dramatic doomy charisma as Mats “I’m the guy hand-picked to sing Johan Längquist and Messiah Marcolin songs” Levén, let alone those more famous voices.
What we’re left with is a bit of a doom conundrum. Death Thy Lover was a big pile of okay performed by a top notch lineup. The Doomsday Kingdom, however, boasts a stronger set of songs, but from a slightly weaker group of musicians than is available to Edling. Any subtle changes from Candlemass’ main doom stylings don’t seem large enough to justify a brand new band.
Of course, a less pessimistic mind would say that we’re also left with a pretty damn good debut for The Doomsday Kingdom that offers a slightly different kind of personality, which is also true. It certainly puts no chips in the sculpture of Edling on Mount Doommore. The only people that would nitpick this album’s lineup and performances to such an extent are long-time Candlemass devotees. But then again, who else is really paying attention to what Leif Edling is doing in 2017?