Saturday, April 6, 2013

Candlemass - Ancient Dreams (1988)

Candlemass are a magnificant band, and this is the second in their Trinity of Divine albums. No, they're not called that because of their religious overtues, I'M calling them that because they are so epic, so beautiful, so haunting that nothing else I have even compares to the majesty and emotion of the sound and the power of Messiah Marcolin's voice.

Like "Nightfall", the cover is taken from a classical painting by Thomas Cole. There are four in the set, and two of them feature on Candlemass albums. This one is Youth. You can view them all here.
It shows a rich and fertile landscape, onto which the youth sails in his golden craft, hand raised as though hailing someone. The river weaves its way off into the distance, towards a ghostly castle or cathedral. In the full image, the angel is standing on the bank and waving, but it is not visible on the CD cover. It is an image to evoke a journey into the fantastical, the mysterious and the potentially dangerous.

A simple two-fold cover, the lyrics are printed in an itty-bitty teeny tiny font that you need glasses to read. On the back are tiny thumbnails of the band. They look very 80s, rather lacking in the majesty and power that their music evokes, although Messiah still looks like a wild-haired monk. I always found the skull on a cross logo to be a bit tacky, given the sheer intensity and beauty of the music. Then again, Candlemass are not the most serious of bands.

The album opens wiht the epic "Mirror Mirror"*. Charging harmonies, chugging guitars, twiddly melodies and then the Voice. Heavy, intense.

Similarly intense, "A Cry from the Crypt" has the characteristic galloping bassline and chugging guitars.

Great and looming, "Darkness in Paradise" descends. The lyrics are filled with bittersweet pain, the vocals a force of nature. Lyrics remind me of "Solitude":
"I'm standing here in silence, disgraceful place of peace, watching the shadows come closer. The birds they sing no longer, the winds they blow no more..."
Ominous dark rhythms.

"Incarnation of Evil" is brooding and immense, looming and ominous.

Starting a wee bit faster, "Bearer of Pain" before falling into similar patterns. Whilst Messiah's voice is indeed very fine, he attains the same pitch and structure for the first five tracks of the album. Individually they are epic, but together they do blur somewhat into one another.

Which makes the next one, "Ancient Dreams" a welcome change. It starts with guitar (bass?); an echoing, sitrring rhythm that reaches deep down into the soul, before the other instruments join in.  Messiah's voice is like a crystaline shard, carrying you to a mystical, magical world where dreams become reality. This was one of the very first Candlemass songs I ever heard, and it still stirs my soul to this day:
"There's no tomorrow, just sadness and sorrow, hold on to thee ancient dreams..."
The higher pitch of the guitars and the lilting nature of the vocals make this one stand out as something quite remarkable and inspirational.

Immense and powerful, "The Bells of Acheron" ring out. Some nicely demented piano in here.

The vocals on "Epistle no 18" have an intense radiance to them, seeming to come deep from the heart and soul, soaring to the skies. The music is a heavy, brooding and dark counterpoint.

Finally we conclude with the "Black Sabbath Medley". Sabbath were induitably the inventors of the doom sound, and this is a fine tribute to them. It begins with "Symptoms of the Universe", but instead of Ozzy's nasal whine we have Messiah's mighty lungs pounding forth the words, before switching to "Sweet Leaf". I can imagine Messiah, the crazy monk himself, stalking back and forth across the stage, howling into the microphone as he gestures at the crowd, then bringing his hands together and turning to face them as he switches into "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath". Then a bit of headbanging as the guitar solo comes in, fading into the lower throbbing tempo. Indeed, the mental image is so clear I cannot help but wonder if I have watched live footage**. After a brief solo, "Electric Funeral" takes over, then a bit more stomping and head-banging. A final flurry of instruments and it's over. Pretty epic tribute though!

This is a mixed bag for me - it contains two of the most awesome Candlemass songs ever - "Ancient Dreams" and "Epistle no 81", but the others are kinda same-ish in their epic scale and immensity. Messiah has a magnificant voice, but it does get a wee bit repetitive after a time.

So this one will get an 8/10.

* Candlemass's videos show they do not take themselves very seriously. It is quite entertaining, but at odds with the music.

** I do actually have footage of Candlemass live, with Tankard and Kreator I think, but the sound is distorted and messed up so I've never watched it.

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