Psalms For The Dead
Limited Edition, Ltd ed.
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Psalms For The Dead
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Psalms for the Dead is the Swedish doom metal legend's swansong. Contrary to the rampant rumors, the band will not be splitting up, but rather concentrating on live performances. Candlemass' final studio album shows a band at the top of their game and it will soon earn the cult status it well deserves. The release is filled with such highlights as "Dancing in the Temple of the Mad Queen Bee" or the sweeping opening track "Prophet," which beautifully showcases the band's strengths.
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That said, this album is...OK. Much like "Death Magic Doom," there are a few really strong tracks mixed in with the medicore. I maintain that the best album the Lowe lineup gave us was "King Of The Grey Islands," and here's why: it fit his voice. Messiah Marcolin famously bailed on the band a second time in part because he didn't want to sing the lyrics Elding had penned for "Grey," and that made sense: Marcolin's not a voice you associate with depressive, inward-looking lyrics. He is rather an epic narrator, which made him perfect for albums like "Tales Of Creation."
Lowe, on the other hand, has always dwelt maudlin, and as such, the suicidal subject matter of "Grey" fit his delivery like a glove. Not so "Death Magic Doom" and "Psalms"; on the newest Candlemass albums, Elding's gone back to tales of the supernatural fantastic, about vampire baronesses, water witches, dancing bees, and suchlike. And Lowe, while still sounding damn good, is not nearly as convincing with this subject matter.
The rest of the band is firing on all cylinders. Instrumentally, they are a tight unit. The solos cook with Johansson's singular blend of melody and attack, the drums have a stately rumble, the riffs are tasty, and the addition of the organ is mostly welcome. (Mostly: giving it a full solo on "Siren Song" was silly.) And there are those standout tracks: the title song, "Prophet," and "Black Is Time" come to mind, the latter having a particularly bleak (and effective) spoken word introduction.
The fundamental weakness of this album is the growing disconnect between Lowe's voice and the lyrics. There's no escaping it. He seems to almost struggle with syllabic phrasing at times; the rhythm and content of this writing is just not how he breathes. Listen to the bridge on "The Killing Of The Sun" by way of example.
"Psalms Of The Dead" is not a bad album, but it lacks the punch and emotional resonance of "King Of The Grey Islands." Perhaps this is for the best, and more appealing on the whole to Candlemass fans; after all, the band's classic trio of Messiah-fronted albums are not at all inward looking, and would suffer if they were. Maybe what I'm ultimately wishing is that the big man could've been lured back for the swansong; with him at the helm, "Psalms" would definitely have bested 2005's near-miss of a reunion album. As it stands, we've got a last chapter which, while not entirely unsatisfying, does leave plenty to be desired.
I've been a fan of Robert Lowe's mournful vocals for almost fifteen years (my first traditional doom album was Living Waters by Last Chapter) and I think his vocals go great with this style of swampy, Sabbath-tinged, cemetery-drug-trip music. Many Candlemass-ians fly the banner of Messiah, who was awesome as well, but Lowe's vocals just give me chills. I will admit that his voice doesn't sound as strong this time around (perhaps the reason why he recently departed from the band) and he doesn't use his trademark echoing effects as much as on previous efforts, but he really brings drama and flair with his diverse delivery.
And the riffs...good heavens. Nothing too technical, not too fast or too slow, but just right to make your blood run cold. Some doom bands lay on the occult/demonic sauce a bit too thick, but Candlemass strikes the perfect balance between depression, hellfire, ghosts, and anger. There is a noticeable 70's doom rock current through the Psalms of the Dead, more so than on previous albums, and a very evil-sounding organ makes frequent appearances (conjuring up comparison to Candlemass' sibling Krux).
Every song on here is pure doom gold, and while the subject matter can be a bit unusual (a mad queen bee? Seriously?), there is more gloomy atmosphere than a 12th century cemetery at midnight in a thunderstorm. Psalms for the Dead is an awesome specimen of the doom metal species, and if this is the way Candlemass chooses to bow out, I am on my knees in worship.