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Candlemass - "King of the Grey Islands" (CD)

Candlemass - "King of the Grey Islands" CD cover image

"King of the Grey Islands" track listing:

1. "Prologue" - 0:56
2. "Emperor of the Void" - 4:29
3. "Devil Seed" - 5:44
4. "Of Stars and Smoke" - 5:50
5. "Demonia 6" - 6:23
6. "Destroyer" - 7:52
7. "Man of Shadows" - 6:17
8. "Clearsight" - 6:52
9. "The Opal City" - 1:13
10. "Embracing the Styx" - 8:19
11. "Solitude" - *
12. "At the Gallows End" - *

Reviewed by on October 16, 2007

"Rob Lowe has made me a fan of Candlemass where they have failed to really impress me before"

Let me preface this review by saying I have never been a huge fan of Candlemass from a vocal standpoint. As such, I hope the following information serves to intrigue new fans of the genre, and also those of you who may have also never got around to giving this band more than a casual listen. When I originally heard that longtime Candlemass frontman, Messiah Marcolin, would not be featured on this album, a small part of me quivered in anticipation. I wondered if the band would choose to employ a voice with a more 'modern' metal sound...you know the shaved-head goatee metal toughguy. While a move in that direction would undoubtedly make the band more accessible, fans might recognize it as a compromise of the legacy they hold onto so securely.

Some sources claim the loss of Messiah as a big deal. However, Candlemass has operated as a revolving door for several musicians in the nearly 20 years since Marcolin delivered his debut serenade to the masses on “Nightfall” in 1987. Despite this, the band stayed true to its sound, yielding ten releases over seventeen years, continuing to put on remarkable live shows, and stealing the thunder of bands nearly half their age (Swedish Grammy awarded in 2006 against modern powerhouses Meshuggah, and contingent Hammerfall and Opeth). With the addition of Rob Lowe (Solitude Aeturnus), Messiah's requiem is thoroughly drowned out by brilliantly structured bass composition and riff after riff of anguishing guitars supporting Lowe's flawless operatic.

While the main buzz around this release is sure to be the vocals, I will simply wrap up the subject now by saying Rob Lowe (along with a really solid pair of Senheissers) has made me a fan of Candlemass where they have failed to really impress me before.

King of the Grey Islands marks another progression in their legacy, and is a nice follow-up to the self-titled reunion album released in 2005. There is a measure of renewed youth the band exudes in some of the unconventional mixtures of archaic rhythms and old-school solos against a backdrop of modern doom. While Candlemass follows the same formula of old, I doubt fans would want anything else, and it's transfused so professionally on this record it’s impossible to be disappointed.

The album opens with a portentous instrumental, conjuring up a bleak landscape full of dark fluttering things and swirling clouds on the horizon. After 56 sinister seconds your ears are immediately assaulted with the driving riff of “Emperor of the Void.” “Devil Seed,” in turn, reaches backwards to touch on the roots of what Candlemass is all about.--that timeless Black Sabbath-esque lullaby. “Of Stars and Smoke” is more of the same, with an anthemic aria churning over a sweetly plucked solo. “Demonia 6” and “Destroyer” up the amplitude via skull shaking drums, and are an appropriate build up to “Man of Shadows,” which is hands-down the most glorious and accomplished track on this release. Here they take every possible angle to fashion the perfect metal song, melding layers of molten bass with silky throwback caravan instrumentals, woven throughout with soaring solos and articulated vocal embroidery.

On the surface, the music may portray fantastical environments and mythical encounters, but as guitarist Leif Edling explains, “The album is a concept story about depression and suicide in the modern society…the road to ruin for 'many kings of grey islands' that can’t stand the everyday life and want to do something about it. No need to say this is Candlemass` black album!!”

The last three tracks wind down the journey, with “Opal City” an appropriate soundtrack to the fictional demise you are about to encounter. “Embracing the Styx” wraps it up nicely, although this track is the weakest in its originality, lending too much to established metal cliché riffs in the melody. Don't worry though; it leaves you with a sweet good night in the last minute and a half.

There are several deviations from conventional Candlemass on the album that lend to more experimental sounds that may affront you as a veteran fan. Even as a non-fan, however, I can testify to this being a worthy listen, not just a casual one. All in all, Edling sacrifices nothing with “King of Grey Islands,” and promises to bear the flag of Doom until he dies. Let us pray this lineup holds on for a new era of soul ripping metal from this canonized pioneer of the genre.

A limited tin box edition of Candlemass' new album, “King Of The Grey Islands,” was released by Nuclear Blast on June 22nd. It is available via mail-order and limited to 500 numbered copies. It features a 3" bonus CD containing two exclusive tracks.

Highs: "Man of Shadows" takes every possible angle to fashion the perfect metal song

Lows: Tired riffs on the last track

Bottom line: Even non-fans should take notice of this album--a worthy listen, not just a causal one.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)