Released: 2007, Nuclear Blast
Swedish giants Candlemass truly should need no introduction for those already steeped in the gloom-shadows of doom metal, but a little refresher course and update never hurts. Founded in the early 80's by bassist Leif Edling, Candlemass has, since their 1986 debut EPICUS DOOMICUS METALLICUS, stood as the gold standard by which all other doom metal is judged. Over the years, the group has added progressive leanings to the doomy aspects of their sound, disbanded twice (both times resulting in Leif starting another new project...Abstrakt Algebra the first time and Krux the second), reuinted twice, won a Swedish Grammy award, and had what could be considered at best an on-again, off-again relationship with their most easily-recognizable member, operatic vocalist Messiah Marcolin. October 2006 saw Marcolin out of the band again, leaving the recording sessions for their already-written latest offering without a singer. This situation was nothing new for Candlemass, who had recorded three albums during the 90's without Messiah on the microphone. Unfortunately, without Marcolin's participation, the albums were considered to be less than what was expected from the band. After the success of the 2005 Messiah-fronted eponymous album, concerns were high regarding a followup without him.
This time, though, Edling found the perfect replacement vocalist in the incredible Robert Lowe from Texas's Solitude Aeturnus, the only band I've personally believed could challenge Candlemass for the crown of the kings of doom. (Lowe, for those of you who might also be S.A. fans, is NOT leaving S.A, choosing instead to perform in both bands.) The result is 2007's KING OF THE GREY ISLANDS, and it is a monster. A monster occasionally suffering from multiple personality syndrome, but a monster all the same. Production is appropriately heavy and dark, matching the lyrical themes of depression in modern-day life. Edling has continued to incorporate elements of 70's-style progressive rock into the songs, resulting in some tracks tending to shift gears without hitting the clutch first. A prime example would be "Emperor Of The Void," which kicks off the album in classic mid-tempo style after a pretty bland clean guitar intro. The song shifts from hammering riffage to an early-Sabbath wah-drenched interlude / solo section to a brief eerie echo-whispered section and back again almost without warning. But somehow, despite the jarring jumps, it all manages to stay together as a composition. And within the first minute of the song, if there was any doubt Lowe would fit into the group, it is completely and utterly crushed as he unleashes his tormented-soul snarls and howls...while he may not have the greatest range in terms of octaves, he throws himself emotionally into his delivery at least one hundred and thirty-seven percent, leading me to believe Edling could've handed him the local telephone directory to sing as lyrics and somehow he'd have made it seem like he meant every word.
Other songs here and there incorporate various progressive and even occasional psychadelic elements - signs Edling is incorporating the ideas he had for Abstrakt Algebra and Krux into the sound, but there's no question that it's still Candlemass through and through. "Devil Seed" is traditional doom in the old Sabbath-crawl style...in fact, the main verse riff conjures up immediate references to the song "Black Sabbath" itself. "Of Stars And Smoke" is classic Candlemass slow, doomy rhythms with a gorgeously melodic multi-voiced melancholy chorus. "Clearsight" is an aggressive riff-monster reminiscent of "Dark Reflections" from the TALES OF CREATION album with a bit of a nod to Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" - both in subject and in the fact Lowe's verse vocal style on this track is somewhat Robert Plant-ish. If I had to pick a weak moment on the album other than the perfunctionary "Prologue" instrumental, it would have to be "Demonia 6," which seems a bit too generic, but is STILL a great track.
Bottom line is this is a flat-out awesome doom metal release. It might take a couple listens to get used to the occasional sudden shifts and stylistic meanderings, but those are worthwhile listens because being depressed has very seldom felt so good before.