Epic doom metal is called such because from its earliest days it was linked to the nature of epicness ‒ heroics, theatricality, a grand tale, etc. ‒ to the point that the title of the Candlemass debut may well have been predestined. The stylistic credo was set: be grandiose, be majestic, be refined, and most obviously, be not in a hurry.
But just as important to the epicness of epic doom metal ‒ and likely both a cause and result of the style’s tenets ‒ is its sense of the past, of oldness. From the aforementioned Candlemass to Solitude Aeturnus and Solstice, every slow, gorgeous melody and holy lyric feels conjured from ages long before the invention of the electric guitar. It’s also this sense of oldness that makes the style stubbornly, endearingly unchic, which is exactly how its biggest fans prefer it.
That hunger is palpable, particularly for anyone familiar with the band’s strong debut Out of the Garden, as The Ruins of Fading Light improves upon its predecessor in every aspect. The vocal melodies are more memorable, the solos constantly vibrant, the songwriting tighter, and the big moments, well, bigger. It’s just a notably huge record in songwriting, performance, and production, and seems to grow in stature every time you spin it.
It’s also an incredibly efficient, almost short 55 minutes, which is probably as direct a compliment that can be paid to mid- to low-tempo metals. For such metal not to drag, the compositions have to be airtight. It helps that every track has at least one little earworm, such as the perfect bit of vocal phrasing during the chorus of opener “The Ninth Templar (Black Candle Flame)” and the descending guitar/tom pattern during the verse of “Beneath the Torchfire Glare.” Some hooks are obvious, and some are deep.
Also aiding the flow is the good amount of subtle variety. There are simplistic, slowly pummeling drives, some “busy doom” riffage, touches of Viking-era Bathory (the Twilight of the Gods rhythms and chants in the killer “Christ is Dead”), passages that up the holiness (the Atlantean Kodex-isms during the initial build of the closing title track), and sections that almost shed their own tears (the chorus of the closing title track). Just the leads themselves come in several forms, from shreddy, wild soloing and shreddy, sad soloing to simpler, mournful lines that back up the vocals at key spots. And as for the vocals, Brooks Wilson has taken as big a leap as anyone in the band, managing to sound morose, brash, penitent, triumphant, and commanding. Mostly, he has serious presence, and like the instruments, always seems to find just the right touch for the particular mood.
Another huge selling point of this record: pure bombast. There’s as much thunder on this record as there are requisite gray beards and medieval epicness, and it’s all very well earned. Chief among the thundering tracks is “The Snake Handler,” and if the whole of the record feels shorter than its full 55 minutes, this track doesn’t even begin to sound like its full nine minutes. The intro is catchy, then lurching; the verses feature naturally dynamic vocals and a nice shuffle; the pre-chorus takes a tragic tone and has some gorgeous moving guitars; the chorus itself towers; and the bridge features some of the shreddiest soloing on the record (complete with some really choice double-tracking). It’s essentially a standard rock format (intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, etc.), but each particular section is so successful in how it builds upon preceding parts and into the next that the song becomes far more than the sum of its collective parts.
Every song on the record pulls this trick ‒ that is, if you can even call well-considered, quality songwriting to be a trick ‒ and each listener is likely to come away with a different favorite. Are there flaws? Not really. Some listeners might find fault with the more rough-edged aspects of Wilson’s vocals, and some might scoff at the runtime no matter the album’s efficiency, but you’d have to be a mighty nitpicker to really take aim at anything. Even the back-to-back interlude-type tracks add a lot to the record’s flow, proving that no matter how small the detail, Crypt Sermon had the whole of the record in mind.
It’s simply hard to imagine old (or “old”) fans of epic doom metal not digging The Ruins of Fading Light. It is an absolutely engrossing record and a shining example of the style. If the jump in quality from their already great debut to this is any indication, Crypt Sermon will only continue to grow older in the best ways possible. Thank all the ancient gods in their lyrics for that.