This year was already shaping up to be a bittersweet year for Leif Edling and the guys in Candlemass. The band’s 11th studio release ‘Psalms for the Dead’ is set to be the last release ever by this band who has been in existence since the mid 80’s. And what should have been a triumphant curtain call in support of this is now mired in what has ultimately plagued the band from day one, the departure of a vocalist. This time Robert Lowe who has appeared on now the last three Candlemass releases has left apparently at the behest of the band. But enough about that stuff, we’re here to talk about the last Candlemass album, Psalms for the Dead. How does it measure up to other albums from years gone by?
It’s no secret that Leif Edling worships Black Sabbath and if you aren’t aware of that fact then the opening track ‘Prophet’ is a stark reminder of this. And by Sabbath I mean Ronnie Dio era Sabbath. Psalms for the Dead even more so then previous releases is not only a farewell to new music but seems to exult in combining lyrical themes and riffs that would have made Ronnie proud. Just the song titles alone are something that would have fit on Mob Rules or Heaven and Hell without blinking an eye.
I’d like to point that I’ve never been the biggest Candlemass fan over their discography. The debut album Epicus Doomicus Metallicus was great but I never fully got into the Messiah Marcolin era. “Sacrilege!” you might be saying and that’s ok. I can’t help the fact that I found Messiah’s monk outfit and obnoxiously over the top pseudo operatic vocals annoying after awhile. With Robert Lowe I felt the band had a vocalist that didn’t draw attention away from the music but actually blended well with the riffs. And it makes sense that he would since his other band Solitude Aeturnus had a similar style.
The one problem I’ve had with Candlemass in the Robert Lowe era has been the sometimes cheesy songs that get sprinkled in each offering. The Bleeding Baroness is one example I can think of off the top of my head. This time on Psalms for the Dead there are quite a few fantasy and fairy tale themes which makes it less of a doom album as Candlemass has been noted for and more of an extremely heavy power metal band. That’s not really a knock because I truly do enjoy those themes to some extent but more of an observation. ‘Dancing In The Temple (Of The Mad Queen Bee)’ is a great example of this as it’s a whirling dervish that makes you want to get up and do a metal jig instead of being ponderous as doom should be but it’s really the only track that came close to me rolling my eyes. The following track ‘Waterwitch’ then brings it back to normal (for Candlemass). ‘The Lights of Thebe’ actually incorporates some synth and keyboards to add atmosphere amid the heavy riffs and a theme that flirts with Egyptian mythology. The title track is a roller coaster ride of slow catchy , morose verses then kicks in gear with Mats Björkman’s always great riffs. I could go on with each track but the truth of the matter is that each track is a Candlemass track with different verses and heavy, melodic, and catchy riffs with atmospheric nuances thrown in. All over supernatural or fantasy themes. It’s just that here at the end of the rope Candlemass finally put together a solid and not very uneven project.
Overall I think Psalms for the Dead is the best album of the three under Robert Lowe and rivals the debut album by this influential band. It really is a shame that they could not garner much attention over here in the states even near the end. But there were reasons for that mainly due to a crowded field from the U.S. and other countries in the 80’s and the popularity of metal in the 90’s waning and Sweden was only exporting Europe and Ace of Base out here. Plus it didn’t help that most of their albums were fairly uneven throughout the 90’s and the constant rotating of singers. But when I think heavy metal the riffs generated on Candlemass albums and on Psalms for the Dead especially is the perfect representation of it. I think the guys can definitely be proud of this effort and can finish off their career on a high note. Not too many bands can say that.