The best way I can think to summarize my feelings about King Of The Grey Islands is to compare its release with the Christmas I experienced back around 1981. It was a year when all I truly wanted was a relatively odd, futuristic-looking 6-wheeled battle tank that had a programmable keypad on the roof that allowed a kid to punch in codes in order to map out its soon-to-be path of destruction. I nearly threw a nut from the excitement of finding said tank under the tree that year, but following a couple weeks of obsession, I ultimately realized the wind-up Evil Knievel stunt motorcycle I’d gotten a couple years prior won hands down with regard to long-term fun-factor. A similar case can be made when looking at Candlemass’ most recent releases. As it turns out, King Of The Grey Islands has pretty much become my programmable battle tank, and much to my surprise, the band’s 2005 self-titled record has become the Evil Knievel stunt bike.
The notion that loads of people have already made “Album Of The Year” claims in metal forums across the land, coupled with fact that the band now sports one of my favorite doom vocalists in Robert Lowe, and you could make a solid case to have me burned alive for crimes of sedition. But now that the hype and the smoke from my initial excitement has finally cleared, the record falls short of the OOMPH expected. It’s incredibly far from bad, mind you, but in terms of personal preferences, I’d rank it ahead of Chapter VI, Dactylis Glomerata, and maybe even Ancient Dreams (a record that’s admittedly always managed to pet me across the grain), but behind the rest of the band’s catalog.
In it’s favor, there are certainly enough elements displayed that any long-time fan of the band or epic doom in general should enjoy. The tragic, infectious and sweeping chorus behind “Of Stars and Smoke” and the supreme “Clearsight,” for example, or the direct salute to the bereaved Epicus-like riffing throughout “Destoyer.” Plus, the album closes the door on a beautifully sad note with “Embracing the Styx,” a tune that showcases precisely why the Swedes put their sites on Texas when it came time to find a new vocalist.
And speaking of “the voice,” unless you’ve been shackled to the wall of a dungeon for the past two years, you’ve probably already heard quite enough about the vocal drama constantly being stirred up in the Candlemass camp. Suffice to say, the lads made a great decision to run with Solitude Aeturnus’ Robert Lowe to fill the void. Despite the relatively short notice, Lowe stepped up and delivered BIG here. In fact, he’s responsible for saving a few of these tunes from drowning in some relatively lethargic riffs, which is ultimately the record’s biggest Achilles heel. Case in point, the fairly drab “Daemonia 6.”
King Of The Grey Islands is an album many expect to see land high up on year-end lists. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as the 2005 self-titled record, I do think it serves up a satisfying enough slice of epic doom to deserve decoration. More importantly, though, this album stands as a necessary stepping stone to allow Lowe a little time to get used to playing in the same sandbox as the rest of the Candlemassers. Once they’ve gelled a bit over the coming year, I really don’t think there’ll be much standing in the way of them releasing another masterwork. Until then, pick up King Of The Grey Islands and let the Lowe era commence.