Candlemass – ‘Death Thy Lover’ EP Review

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Candlemass are back to celebrate their 30th anniversary with a brand new EP destined to show the youngsters how it’s done. Featuring four brand new studio tracks, the EP marks the emergence of legendary vocalist Mats Leven (Therion) as the new frontman for the band, taking over from Rob Lowe who left the band in 2012. Mats has a long history with the band and even sang on demos for ‘Candlemass’ and ‘King of the Grey Islands’ (recordings that can be found on the long out-of-print ‘Doomology’ box set). Despite only having four tracks, the EP clocks in at twenty-six minutes in length, with the band unleashing a truly epic performance, spurred on by the mighty legacy that they have accrued. With the effervescent Mats on board, Candlemass look set to enter the fourth decade of their career as vital as ever.

From the moment the phased guitar of ‘Death thy lover’ emerges from the speakers, you know that you’re in the presence of greatness. There’s a vitality to Candlemass that eludes some bands half the age, and it’s immediately clear that Mats has no intention of being overshadowed by the band’s previous, larger-than-life vocalists. Indeed, the whole band sound entirely energized by his presence and it’s hard to imagine a better celebration of the band’s impressive legacy than this blistering invocation of darkness. An epic in every sense of the word, the track moves across a wide range of musical territory over the course of its seven-minute run time and Mats, long-known for giving his all to the projects with which he is involved, draws on his theatricality and power to give a memorable performance that perfectly matches the huge riffs doled out by the band. Next up, the epic groove of ‘Sleeping giant’ is like a shot of adrenalin straight to the heart, whilst Mats’ sinister vocal conjures up images of the statues of Gods, long decayed and sleeping within a decaying temple. Few bands have the power to combine such evocative imagery and pure heavy metal power, and yet Candlemass make it look easy, and the recording oozes confidence.  

With the EP proving to be a storming success, ‘Sinister N Sweet’ cruises in on a huge, surging riff before Candlemass pull the rug out from under you, slowing the pace and stripping the aggression for a quietly, reflective moment that is simply the calm before the storm. There’s a strong theatrical feel to the piece, somewhere between Llyoyd-Webber and Bruce Dickinson, whilst Lars Johansson takes every opportunity to tear into his fretboard like a man possessed, unleashing epic solos with a fire and fury that is impossible to ignore. The EP ends, all too soon, with ‘the goose’, a sludgy trawl announced by Jan Lindh’s doom-laden beat and guitars that blazes like magma as it pours slowly, yet inevitably toward human habitation. Best played at mind-melting volume, ‘The Goose’ is a mesmerising instrumental that highlights the power that Candlemass are capable of summoning even without vocalist Mats tearing into the songs with such unbridled enthusiasm. An opportunity to underscore the instrumental prowess at the heart of the band, ‘the Goose’ not only provides the perfect close to the EP but also leaves the listener very much wanting Candlemass to return with more as soon as possible.

It’s not easy replacing the charismatic vocalists that have fronted Candlemass in the part, yet in Mats Leven the band have found a perfect fit. A rare vocalist whose power and authority on stage is truly second to none, Mats brings all his versatility and theatricality to bear on this EP and, as a result, immediately stamps his own imprint upon proceedings. The four tracks here are Candlemass at their very best – the recording is pristine, the songs layered and complex and the musicianship ubiquitously high. It’s hard to imagine a more fitting celebration of a lengthy career and these much feted doomsters cannot return soon enough.  

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