A great many Candlemass devotees point to full-length number two when discussing “the ultimate jewel” in the band’s discography, and it’s easy to understand why—Nightfall is a paragon, and no doom record is likely to top the ultimate one-two punch that closes out its near perfect side A, “At the Gallow’s End” and “Samarithan.” But record number one, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, still manages to wear the King’s crown for two principal reasons: 1) inadvertent excellency, and 2) it remains one of the most unique sounding records in all of metal.
The band had no idea how significant that work would become when they first started cooking things up all those many years ago:
Candlemass was the textbook definition of unusual. During a time when most of their peers were trying to find new ways to go faster and harness more violence, they very simply opted for HEAVY and unexpectedly tapped the scarce doom reservoir that as yet, still remained tucked beneath metal’s resilient mantle. And it worked. Holy Hell, did it ever work. Say what you will about the version that eventually became reworked for Tales of Creation, the first Epicus interpretation of “Under the Oak” felt as heavy as a double-bladed axe hewing through the soft wood of a 300 year-old tree that fell 100 years ago, and no other band releasing metal in 1986 came close to matching that record’s thickness.
Today, everything about Epicus still feels earthy, raw and teeming with eager life. As if spinning the record might continue to animate the players from black soil to surround and wallop all within earshot with cyclopean doom. It’s a kindly cave troll’s house record—every instrument sheathed in a layer of moss, and boasting a curiously eerie snail’s pace that absolutely did cause more than a few original bangers to double check turntable speed settings. And somehow, just as Edling stated, the full spell was all caught on tape, but haphazardly enough that vocalist Johan Längquist ended up outside the listed members and in the “thank you” list, as if the studio clock was ticking and Leif quickly grabbed the first hair farmer he could find off the street.
The cold truth: while Messiah would obviously become incredible in his own right, he would have been too persnickety and precise for the Candlemass debut. In contrast, Johan seemed almost intrinsically operatic and gothic, which suited the record’s unplanned brilliance to a tee. Messiah was the lunatic monk / thespian, where Längquist was the one broken knight dented to kingdom come, resting alongside his comrades at a campfire after a long day of battle who abruptly splits the heavy night silence with a voice so honest and rich with passion that even the fire itself shuts up so its hot ears can attend. There have been countless moments in metal where intense vocals rise to the top, and one of them clearly occurs when Längquist grieves:
Hear my prayers
Climbing on the clouds above
Reach the inner halls of truth
Give me a sign
A crimson sky, bless my eyes
Up goes the sun, my time has come…
Stepping away from that studio session and listening to a finished “Under the Oak” for the first time must have left everyone involved bewildered. And really, who knows how Edling, Björkman, and Ekström regarded what Längquist imparted on that experience. Those of us who were lucky enough to stumble across a copy on LP or cassette sure as hell had zero backstory on the band or the narrative behind Epicus—magazines didn’t really talk much about them, and as far as listeners were concerned, Längquist could’ve jumped onto the back of a griffin and flown away the second the record was done. The following year, Candlemass was born anew with Messiah and a more polished sound with zero commentary detailing the transformation. And just like that, Johan disappeared.
All of this subtext may seem terrifically unnecessary, but it’s useful for two reasons: 1) It hopefully demonstrates that Epicus Doomicus Metallicus Part 2 is a futility, given all the elements leading to the debut’s peculiarity, and 2) it indicates just how big a deal it is that Johan Längquist is back in the Candlemass fold.
Since quite a bit of real estate has already been spent plowing through words above, let’s get something straight here and now regarding The Door to Doom. Beyond the obvious factor of how big a fan you happen to be of the band, you will win or lose here depending on how far you expect Candlemass to reach beyond their current frame, and also based on how much time you anticipate spending with the record from the jump.
Längquist sounds fantastic. Not quite the same level of stagey drama compared to 30-plus years ago, which was to be expected, yet every bit as enthusiastic, barrel-chested and vital to the overall victory. Where years and life have so often sapped counterparts, Längquist’s voice has simply become more gravelly and composed. He gives the record’s heaviness the perfect partner, slamming home the hook as well as any of the C-mass frontman sandwiched between his bookended releases, and he offers the scattering of Door to Doom’s mellow moments an added bit of golden sorrow. Difficult to not tip your hat to the guy after hearing him on the band’s first true ballad, “The Bridge of the Blind.”
The slow jam ain’t the only trick that helps this record stand out against the rest of Candlemass’ modern output. The overall riffs feel a little more dense and imaginative—when was the last time these boys kicked off a tune as nastily as they do “Black Trinity?” That particular cut also features a fun and sort of menacing stretch around the halfway point that brings to mind Shere Khan on the prowl. And the excellent “Death’s Wheel,” one of the album’s struttiest struts, even manages to sneak in what sounds like a pedal steel amidst its drifty midpoint. It’s the ancillary details such as this that really help give The Door to Doom more legs without fully eclipsing what Candlemass songs are supposed to do: wallop.
The covert star of this year’s show, however, is Lasse Johansson—one of metal’s more underappreciated lead guitarists. He’s always had a unique and notably raw style of soloing, but I don’t recall a time when his contribution was as resilient and ear-catching as it is here. So strong is his presence, he nearly manages to outshine The Maestro (thee Maestro) on “Astorolus – The Great Octopus.” Put simply, Johansson’s stamp elevates every cut. Listen to the way he energizes the opening “Splendor Demon Majesty” around the 2:48 mark.
A great many words have been written about the impact certain 80s albums have had on metal by virtue of pushing speed and aggression levels to new heights. But for yours truly, three particular releases stood out like extraordinary beacons for being weird enough to renounce metal’s appetite for breaking the sound barrier in favor of cultivating doom: the self-titled entrance from Saint Vitus , Trouble’s sophomore release The Skull , and Candlemass’ indomitable debut. The Vitus record remains the most punk doom release to ever hit this filthy planet; The Skull definitively crushed Christian metal’s gutlessness; and Epicus… Well, Epicus was an animal so rare that nothing has ever come close to duplicating it. The Door to Doom ain’t really here to rock that boat. So, if you’re a casual fan of the style who’s comfortable with sporadic spins of classics, you probably won’t need to drop everything and kick down this particular door to doom. However, if you’re one of those people who has “heard the call”—the rare individual that doom sort of found all on its own instead of vice versa—you will want in on this particular celebration.
It took nearly 35 years, but Johan Längquist’s name is finally listed as a full-time member of Candlemass. Let’s just hope this union lasts longer than it did for a number of other Candlevoices from the past. But hell, even it doesn’t, at least we now have one more gem for the ages.