For a band who literally defined what doom-metal is (so much so that the genre is named after their 1986 debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus), Candlemass aren’t a band who appear much in the wider conversation of metal as a whole. There are definite reasons why that might be the case, primarily doom-metal being extremely niche as it is and Candlemass having a fairly fragmented history of existing as a band, but if anything, The Door To Doom looks to be one of their most vehement attempts to date at changing that. For one, it sees Johan Längqvist return as lead vocalist for the first time since their debut, and with a guest appearance from Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, Candlemass aren’t pulling any punches as far as looking to leave more of a mark than they have in three decades on the genre they helped to forge.
Admittedly though, coming back with something like that is a tough ask for any band. Fatigue is definitely a factor to consider, and with legacy bands like this, creative burnout is hardly a new phenomenon, especially on late-period releases like this. That being said, it doesn’t feel as though creativity was high on the docket for The Door To Doom, instead with Candlemass drawing plenty of parallels with fellow Swedes Ghost in their moulding of the doom aesthetic around something a lot more openly lighthearted and theatrical. That’s not to say that Candlemass have fully embraced the goth-pop wave either, but they’re slight inclusions that, overall, make The Door To Doom a leaner and more enjoyable listen.
And of course, it’s not hard in the slightest to tell that this is not an album to take all that seriously. The fact that a good chunk of the writing seems to pull liberally from plenty of metal’s other niche subgenres is enough to reinforce that, whether it’s the power metal-esque representation of the sea on Under The Ocean and the Lovecraftian horrors within it on Astorolus – The Great Octopus, the wistful folk-metal balladry of Bridge Of The Blind, or simply roiding out the doom-laden, occult imagery on tracks like Death’s Wheel and House Of Doom. All the while, Längqvist’s distinctly oversized vocal delivery lends a level of flamboyance that’s definitely welcome, particularly for tracks that do veer more into the fantastical or mythological. It’s never overplayed to where it sounds stupid, but there’s a pomp and versatility that most doom-metal is severely lacking in.
That’s not something that really translates to the instrumentation though, and while it’s certainly not bad at moving between the doom-metal that Candlemass made their own and something a bit more traditional, it’s a lot easier to pick out where an equal degree of theatricality and performative nature comes through, both because they so seldom appear and the changes are blatant. Splendor Demon Majesty does a good job as an opener by leaning into meatier trad-metal tones, but in the swirling acoustics of Bridge Of The Blind or the gloriously cheesy organs on House Of Doom, the signs of a band having fun and breaking away from workmanlike routine becomes the most clear. On an objective level, there’s nothing particularly egregious about the more standard doom fare, mind; the slow, monolithic heaviness is produced in a way to accentuate those exact qualities in great detail, and while Iommi’s solo on Astorolus – The Great Octopus isn’t his best work, the flair is about as classic-sounding as you’d expect. That being said, pure doom has the propensity to drag at the best of times, and while Candlemass are far from the worst culprits given how relatively tight everything is kept (by this genre’s standards, anyway), there’s only so much that can be achieved with big, hulking slabs of guitar before it can start to feel like futile repetition. At least the clearer moments of experimentation are peppered around in a way to keep things fresh enough, but the dips are noticeable and can hurt the album as a whole.
But for a band that have been around as long as Candlemass have, you take the rough with the smooth, and the fact that The Door To Doom is as ultimately smooth as it is – a feat that so many other bands of this age don’t even get marginally close to – is encouraging. At the very least, it shows a revitalisation that’s easy to attribute to a classic lineup returning, but there’s just enough creativity here to imply a band comfortable with moving out of their comfort zone, even if taking that approach a bit more often would yield stronger results overall. Still, for a surprisingly strong and satisfying album that’s perhaps a more palatable jumping-off point to doom-metal’s wider world, there’s quite a lot that can be gotten out of this one.
For fans of: Black Sabbath, Ghost, King Diamond
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Door To Doom’ by Candlemass is released on 22nd February on Napalm Records.