I feel I must confess to you, the long suffering and constant reader of my rambling reviews, that my heart sank when a copy of the beautifully presented 25th anniversary edition of ‘Epicus Doomicus Metallicus’ arrived on my desk. This is not, you understand, because I don’t love the album; I do – it is a righty revered doom masterpiece that time has done little or nothing to age or diminish – but how does one review a genre classic and do it justice? Happily Aaron Stainthorpe of My Dying Bride (who provides an introductory note to this set) came to the rescue and I shall quote him directly: “ I’m not going to heap honey-coloured praise all over this magnificent recording here as I really don’t have to – it’s all been said before , but I will say this; every song here is a classic.” Aaron is quite right, a review would be ridiculous at this stage so instead I shall content myself (and I hope you) with providing a brief review of the second disc, which offers a commentary (a device previously seen on the reissues of Darkthrone and Isengard) and the sumptuous packaging that accompanies the near-perfect first disc of music.
To start with the easy one, Peaceville have, once again, stepped up to the mark and produced this latest version of ‘Epicus…’ as a digi-book. For those of you unfamiliar with the style, it means the package comes as a hard-backed, CD size case with the discs bookending the booklet with the result that the whole thing feels more expensive and far more special than your average jewel case. The iconic cover art is slightly changed from the previous CD edition as it now features red lettering (as with the vinyl edition) and the live disc which was packaged as a bonus (and which featured portly ex-singer Messiah on vocals) has been dropped in favour of the aforementioned commentary disc. The booklet is not as expansive as it might have been but it does offer up liner notes from both Aaron Stainethorpe and bassist/driving force Leif Edling as well as hand-written lyrics and plenty of period photos including a shot of the original promotional poster for the album. In short, the album has been respectfully and beautifully packaged and as such it feels like more of an event than if it had just been thrust into the shops in the same old tired form as before.
The real meat of this package, however; the reason that you might venture forth from your caves into the sunlight, blinking and shuffling, is the commentary disc – a format that Peaceville alone seem to have pioneered as a form of introducing classic albums in a new light. Like previous albums released with a commentary disc it is clear that Candlemass have been chosen for the honour because they have a band member in Leif who is able to speak at length and interestingly about each of the tracks. As with the previous discs, the music for each track plays in the background – fading up when Leif has nothing to say – while you are offered the chance to hear the sort of detail that interviews have only ever partly covered and Leif, like Fenriz of Darkthrone, is seemingly very happy to just embellish each track with tales of the recording (many of which I’ve never heard before despite having read several features on the making of the album in music magazines), stories connected to the song (‘Solitude’ is particularly interesting, but I shall let you discover for yourself why) and details about the band’s lengthy history and the album’s difficult (and cold) gestation.
There’s no merit in my telling you too much more as it will give away a lot of the detail that is far better heard from Leif than me. When I first encountered the idea of Commentary disc I questioned whether it would be listened to more than once. I was wrong. I have listened back to the Darkthrone commentaries a good couple of times each because as a long-standing fan it is a genuine pleasure to hear one of the creators wax lyrical with enthusiasm and humour about their work. The same is true here – the commentary is compelling because it allows you to get closer to the music and it personalises it in a way that a track-by-track essay doesn’t quite manage. Simply, if you’re a fan of the creative process behind the music then this is essential for you, if you’re rather less interested then you may have to question the necessity of a second purchase, especially if you already have the previous special edition although the packaging is tempting indeed thanks to the extra effort that’s gone into it.
To conclude, you really should already own a copy of ‘Epicus Doomicus Metallicus’. It is one of those records that is truly and demonstrably inspirational with not a weak moment in evidence and when you consider that it was recorded on a tight budget, with a session singer, in a freezing basement, the result is all the more impressive. Packaged beautifully and with a bonus commentary disc that most fans will find utterly fascinating, this is certainly essential if you don’t already have a copy and something you should strongly consider even if you do already have it but want to learn more about the band. Of far more value, in my opinion, than a collection of rough outtakes or demos, it is a genuine pleasure to listen to Leif reminisce about the band’s past and his enthusiasm still shines through even some 25 years after the fact which draws you in and keeps you listening right to the end. A worthwhile re-issue beautifully packaged, perhaps it’s time to update your battered version and reacquaint yourself with this astonishing album.