Riffology 108 – The Well Of Souls

In today’s lesson, we will examine a couple of riffs from the Candlemass song “The Well of Souls,” from their second album, Nightfall.
This album featured the debut of the band’s “classic” line-up. Founding members, bassist Leif Edling and rhythm guitarist Mats Bjorkman, were joined by vocalist Messiah Marcolin, drummer Jan Lindh and lead guitarist Lars Johansson. With this injection of new blood, Candlemass went from a studio project to a real, live-touring band that would build a legacy of doom that few could rival.

Whether Nightfall or its debut predecessor, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, is Candlemass’ best record can be debated until the end of time. Where there is no debate, however, is the fact that Nightfall remains one of the greatest doom metal records ever made, and “The Well of Souls” opens the album proper in devastating fashion. Before we get to that, however, there is a little intro entitled “Gothic Stone” that manages to play a part in our lesson.The video below contains both “Gothic Stone” and “The Well of Souls”. Make a mental note of the synthesizer riff that runs from approximately 00:09 to 00:47. It will reappear.

For now, let’s focus on the opening riff of “The Well of Souls,” which begins at 1:00 in the video.

When Pennsylvania’s Argus came up with the title Boldly Stride the Doomed, I think they must have been listening to “The Well of Souls,” because that is one boldly striding riff. Based roughly in E-flat minor (guitars are tuned down one half-step), this four-bar riff features a few out of key notes that give it a more exotic and evil sound.

The first is A, which in this key would be our old friend the diminished fifth, and the second is E, which in this key is the minor second. The minor second is one half-step up from the tonic note of the scale, and, like the diminished fifth, is one of the most dissonant intervals in western music. One of the real hooks in this riff is the fact that drummer Jan Lindh plays an extra kick-drum hit on the final upbeat of the first and second bars to emphasize the transition from E to E-flat. Another compelling feature of the riff is the way it swings: Descending in the first bar, ascending in the second, and then back down in the third and then teetering back and forth in the final bar before tumbling down in the last few beats.

Now, fast forward to about 2:41 – you should recognize the riff from “Gothic Stone,” this time played by guitars instead of keyboards. This riff is arguably the main theme of “The Well of Souls,” as it is played under a couple verses and the guitar solo, and it serves as the song’s outro. This riff is also initially played roughly in E-flat minor, but as it runs for over a minute, Candlemass modulates the riff up to A-flat for a time to spice things up.

This riff also has some interesting note choices. Like the last riff, it features the minor second (E), but it also includes the major third, G. Normally, the inclusion of a major third would strongly imply a major tonality and evoke a “happy” sound. This is doom, though; there will be none of that. The inclusion of the minor second and the band’s initial focus on half-step melodic movement creates a sort of tonal ambiguity and gives the riff a vaguely “Middle Eastern” sound. Furthermore, at the end of the riff, the band throws in the minor third, G-flat, crushing any hope for happiness.

Speaking of “Middle Eastern”-sounding riffs, does this sound familiar?

Yes, Nile stole the “Gothic Stone” / “The Well of Souls” riff and used it as the intro for the track “Unas, Slayer of the Gods,” from the 2002 album, In Their Darkened Shrines. Nile owns up to the thievery, however, and considers it a tribute to Candlemass, so I suppose that makes it more or less acceptable. Though, I do wonder if Candlemass gets royalties. In any case, if a riff is worth ripping off, it must be a pretty damn good riff.Although we have only covered two riffs here, “The Well of Souls” is really a treasure trove of doom riffage, and I urge you to give the song further study.


Point out another example of riff rip-off.Required Listening:

Candlemass – Nightfall

Extra Credit:

Learn to play “Nightfall”. I have linked to a tab, but most of these riffs in this song are pretty simple, so give it a shot by ear first.

Extra, Extra Credit:

Learn to play “Unas, Slayer of the Gods”.

Posted by Jeremy Morse

Riffs or GTFO.

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