ALBUM REVIEW: Candlemass – ‘Sweet Evil Sun’

A drawing of the sun with a skull superimposed in front of it. The skull had two swords sticking out from it like horns, and a crucifix on its forehead

Yep, it’s another Candlemass album alright! Is there much more that needs to be said? We’re talking about the literal granddaddies of doom-metal here, who, nearly four decades and thirteen albums in, surely aren’t that bothered about switching things up to win over the unconverted. Though maybe that can also be seen as complacency masked by legacy; they don’t need to do anything like that, but perhaps that’s why Sweet Evil Sun comes across like an older, less exciting album, one in which Candlemass’ coasting is mostly notable.

It’s rather obvious too, simply in the way that the album sounds. Here, Candlemass look to be facing a more classic, traditional metal sound in their guitar style—particularly that of Iron Maiden—only to land a tone that’s so unimpactful with nowhere near the sufficient power. For a band held to the self-imposed ‘epic doom-metal’ label, there’s not much that feels particularly grand, in what’s such a flat, leaden tone that truly starts to drag fairly early on.

Of course, criticising doom-metal for being slow is widely missing the point, but that doesn’t mean it has to plod along in such an obviously clunky way as this; it’s less stylistic deliberateness and more just plain drudgery. It’s that lack of lack of the ‘epic’ prefix that kneecaps Sweet Evil Sun almost all the way down. Admittedly, Candlemass hit a small stride right at the end with Crucified and Goddess, in which they rediscover the depth and drama that can make classic doom still enrapturing, but it’s the bookending run of nearly an hour’s worth a music, most of which doesn’t even come close to that.

Even compared to their last album, 2019’s The Door To Doom, it’s frankly astonishing how much deterioration has been undergone here, when the mixes sound so shallow and weak, to say nothing of Johan Langquist’s vocals. How he’s fallen this far in just three years is honestly mystifying, now with barely any resonance that exposes how craggy and clearly faltering in power he is, especially when he attempts some Bruce Dickinson-esque belts that sound awful. It doesn’t help that he’s mixed so far forward where his shortcomings are basically impossible to mask, and subsequently seems to suck away any legitimate power or presence from elsewhere. It can be the only explanation for why the drums wind up so flat and clunky across Devil Voodoo, or why Avantarium’s Jennie-Ann Smith sounds so thin and weedy on When Death Sighs, rather than bringing any potential grandiosity or might.

The most disappointing thing is that this isn’t impossible to rectify, by any means. Candlemass are still on the same creative wavelength as ever, be that in the penchant for wide, spiraling songs, or writing that’s still deeply ingrained in the doom-metal playbook. A bit of redressing is all that’s really needed to make this a regular Candlemass album, at the very least. And that’s what makes it so hard to understand why Sweet Evil Sun sounds the way it does, clunking along with precious little command of atmosphere or depth within its darkness. It’s more an unbalanced facsimile of what Candlemass usually are, sucking away the mystique and ending up significantly hollow.

And while all of that might seem to contradict the original thesis opening this review of Sweet Evil Sun being ‘just another Candlemass album’, that’s still true. At their essence, Candlemass are carrying on as they always have, and the fact that’s yielded an album that’s dropped off this steeply makes it even more worth bringing up, when that’s so inexplicable. There’s no need for Sweet Evil Sun to sound as inadequate as it does; they’ve got the same lineup and producer as last time, so why has this turned out as it has? Perhaps that’ll never be answered, and Candlemass’ impressive legacy up to now can chalk this up to merely a bad day at the office. Hopefully they can rectify that next time, and turn in something actually befitting of their lofty status.

For fans of: Black Sabbath, Cathedral, Iron Maiden

‘Sweet Evil Sun’ by Candlemass is released on 18th November on Napalm Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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