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Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986)

Epicus Doomicus Metallicus is the first full-length album from the Swedish doom metal band Candlemass. For this release, Leif Edling (bass/lyrics), Mappe Björkman (rhythm guitar) and Matz Ekström (drums) were joined by session musicians Klas Bergwall (lead guitars) and Johan Lanquist (vocals) to create a sorrowful and epic masterpiece of traditional doom metal. It was one of the first of its kind. Released in June 1986, this would go on to inspire countless bands, in the decades that followed.

This classic record represents somewhat of a failure, for me. I discovered doom metal, roughly, around the same time as black metal. Unfortunately, I lacked the resources to really explore this sub-genre and was only exposed to a handful of bands. In actuality, these bands weren't traditional doom metal but, rather, death/doom such as the early releases from My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost. There was a Trouble song on one of the Metal Massacre compilations that I had, but I never bothered to follow up on that. Of course, all of this goes back to Black Sabbath and that was one of the first bands (of any kind) that I ever got into, as a child. But to return to, and elaborate on, the initial point, I failed to discover this album until early 2006. My ex tossed it in as we were on a road trip to Buffalo, New York and we listened to it several times. It had a familiar feeling to it, from the first time, as if I should have known it all along. Epicus Doomicus Metallicus filled a void that had existed for far too long, with regard to my musical knowledge and experience.

It all begins with the miserable acoustic intro, accompanied by an organ and the miserable voices of Lanquist and Edling, woefully singing the following lyrics:

"I'm sitting here alone in darkness
Waiting to be free,
Lonely and forlorn I'm crying
I long for my time to come
Death means just life
Please let me die in solitude"

This verse is followed by crushing and oppressive riffs, very reminiscent of Black Sabbath, that slowly roll over your spirit like a tank. This is heavy, slow and depressive. Johan's vocals are filled with a somber feeling, while remaining incredibly powerful. Everything here works together to create an agonizing atmosphere of despair and suffering. The lead solo pierces you soul, injecting it with a fatal dose of melancholy. "Solitude" represents the rebirth of the classic Black Sabbath style, which would go on to influence every doom metal band that followed. This song is epic and mournful, returning to the same acoustic passage that began the song, as it concludes. Johan sounds as if he is drained of all life, his voice lowering, just wishing for the end to come.

"Demons Gate" is the next song, beginning with an eerie intro that features a demonic voice and some synth. This sounds much like a funeral dirge, being slow and filled with a gloomy feeling. Lanquist might not be the best known Candlemass vocalist, but his style suits this perfectly. His mournful voice reaches into the darkest depths of your being, speaking on a level beyond comprehension. Mid-way through the song, the bass and drums are left alone to drag the mood down even deeper. The lead solo that follows is eerie and haunting in a somber way, almost like something from a King Diamond album. As the vocals return, the tone takes on a hint of madness. Some of the high notes have a soul-shattering quality to them. The title of the album could not be more appropriate, as this is very epic.

This lengthy song is followed by the much shorter "Crystal Ball", which displays Johan's range quite well. This one is slow and plodding as well, yet there is sort of an uptempo part leading to, and including, the chorus. The riffs and melodies are quite memorable and the screams won't soon leave your brain. The lead solo has an insane quality to it, preceding the rumbling of the bass. Another lead solo follows this, and it is dripping with an epic feeling. The lyrics aren't depressing, like the first song, but the down-tempo atmosphere is still there.

"Black Stone Wielder" is next, beginning with an even heavier, creeping riff. This crushing sound is mostly due to the bass and the drums, though the guitars do get louder after a few moments, playing some drawn-out and despairing riffs. The duel harmony is a nice touch. The vocals really possess a soulful feeling, adding much depth to the song. After a couple verses, this returns, creating a very desolate atmosphere. The dark melody beginning just before the 4:00 mark really drags you down, deeper still. Into the black abyss, you are pulled, into a land of misery and loss. Hope does not exist here. The lead solo serves to eradicate any sense of hope or optimism. The lyrics are filled with a powerful darkness as well.

"Into the sundown they returned
The moon was rising and heaven burned
Like shadows disappeared the men
and the black stone wielders were never seen again"

This epic track tells the tale of the ancestral passing of misused power that is told, not only through the words, but also through emotive movements of music that lie in the perpetual tread of the pace, the dynamic chorus, and then with the summation of the story, picking up the pace for a compelling finish, beginning as Johan declares, "...the black stone wielder is born...", in one of the most powerful moments of the record.

The L.P. continues with "Under the Oak", which first appeared on the Tales of Creation demo, the previous year. This one begins with an uglier kind of riff, threatening to tear your face off. The lead solo comes in, at just the right moment, to sear the flesh from your bones. Johan's vocals are a bit deeper, here, conveying a deep sense of sorrow and possessing a more aggressive edge at the same time. The lead solo goes beyond description, tearing your soul apart. This is followed by one of the most miserable moments of the album, where an acoustic guitar plays a mournful tune as Johan screams from the depths of his being.

"I cried for the ones I have lost
Midnight in paradise, grief
Away goes my hope"

The drumming on this album perfectly suits the music and would go on to be emulated by countless others. From this point on, the vocals become much higher and a sense of urgency is conveyed by his delivery. The riffs return to the monstrous sounds from the intro, as another lead solo accompanies Johan's sorrowful wailing. A melody of grief carries the song to its pained conclusion.

This epic record comes to an end with "A Sorcerer's Pledge". This is the second longest track on the album, beginning with a truly miserable intro that features acoustic guitar and anguished vocals. Cold winds blow in the background as the lyrics tell a story of despondency.

"Where is the morning
Where is the sun
A thousand years of midnight
The sunrise is gone"

After this is repeated, the crushing guitars fade in with the intent to destroy any hope that still resides in your feeble body. A mid-paced thrash riff picks the pace up, briefly. The feeling of the song is much like being taken on a journey through time. Listening to this, the world around you ceases to exist. Late in the song, the guitars are replaced by synth, with the drums and bass taking you even deeper into the murky underworld. Emaciated hands reach out from the shadows, tearing at your soul. Deeper you descend, moving faster until all becomes a blur. The guitars return, crushing any remnants of your battered spirit. The hands continue to reach out for you, ripping and shredding you. A ghostly female voice then comes from the black forest that surrounds you, as the music fades to nothingness. The eerie voice echoes and you find yourself lying on the ground, on the edge of the cemetery. You look up into the night sky, gazing at the full moon, wondering what just happened. Your time has not yet come, yet you have seen a small glimpse of what awaits you. The end shall soon beckon your frozen soul. Deserved doom shall be unto you...
(20 Apr. 2009)

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