Released: 2012, Napalm Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
So, hmmm... So this is how it ends guys? Mmmkay…
PSALMS FOR THE DEAD is supposed to be the swan song for Swedish doom lords Candlemass, the epitaph for a band with a history spanning 3 decades. And while it’s a generally capable album for the band, I can’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed. Given the quality of the last 3 discs in particular, I think most fans (myself included) were expecting a much more epic conclusion for Candlemass. PSALMS FOR THE DEAD sounds like a band going through the motions.
Allow me to go all conspiracy theory on you for a moment if you will…
I don’t believe for a second that this will be the last Candlemass album. Leif Edling closed up shop once before, and the result was that nobody cared much about what he did if the album cover didn’t have the Candlemass name stamped across it. Whether out of desire or necessity, there will be another Candlemass studio disc at some point. Also, the fact that Robert Lowe was ousted from the band on the eve of PSALM’s release indicates that things haven’t been all hugs and chocolate for some time now. Perennial fill-in Mats Leven is handling vocals on current live obligations, but has made it clear that he’s not officially joining the band. I can’t imagine Candlemass agreeably exiting on these terms, their final hurrah being marred by not having an official frontman, not to mention how the scenario complicates promotion of the album. There’s some kind of mischief afoot, I can feel it…
Now back to PSALMS FOR THE DEAD.
The presentation of the album reminded me a lot of TALES OF CREATION – lots of dry, crunchy tones wrapped around mid-tempo jaunts. What also sticks out immediately is the increased presence of keyboards/organs across the album. Candlemass has always had some element of this in its sound, but never as prevalent as it is on PSALMS. It’s a refreshing new dimension for the band and a bit daring to change things up so late in the game. But regrettably much of the album is executed with little fanfare, and quite matter of factly.
“Prophet” is the traditional upbeat opener that has some great mid-section harmonies and a respectable gallop, but it doesn’t sound nearly as confident as “If I Ever Die” or “Emperor of the Void.” Comparatively, “Dancing in the Temple (Of the Mad Queen Bee)” is as good as anything the band has ever done, with a thick Hammond backline and a dramatic display of pomp. “Killing the Sun” and the title track are both powerful, mid-tempo anthems that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on DEATH MAGIC DOOM, while tunes like “The Sound of Dying Demons, “Waterwitch,” and “Siren Song” left me with a great big sack of “meh.” The latter track does have a fantastic Deep Purple inspired keyboard run, I’ll give it that much.
Part of the problem with PSALMS OF THE DEAD can be pointed directly at Robert Lowe’s performance. I’m a fan of the guy’s body of work, but there’s not a whole lot of energy or variation in his vocal delivery. Listening to the album, I couldn’t help but imagine how things would’ve sounded had Messiah, Levens, or even Thomas Vickstrom tackled the job to give a brighter contrast to the opaquely dark musical backdrop. At the end of the day though, PSALMS OF THE DEAD can be chalked up to a couple of great songs, a handful of really good songs, and a bunch of stuff that wouldn’t phase me if I never heard them again. And as a longtime Candlemass fan, that’s completely f@#king disappointing to write.