There is no award for album titles, but having an entire genre spawned in its wake feels like the highest honor possible. It doesn’t happen often – see Smokey Robinson’s A silent storm and that of Brian Eno Ambient 1: Music for Airports– but when heavy metal became popular worldwide in the 1980s and expanded further into web-like subcategories, it happened twice in just a few years. In 1982 British band Venom released their surprisingly extreme second album, Black metal, which first inspired a wave of speed-demon thrash bands, then more bad-sounding bands that grabbed the “black metal” banner and ran away with it. And in 1986, some kids in Sweden who played slow, dramatic, heavy music not only came up with the “epic doom metal” genre tag, but also turned it into the ur lyrics. Like a power hitter pointing to the stands behind centerfield as he approaches the plate, Candlemass called their debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus† Peaceville Records’ new 35th anniversary reissue celebrates the album with a new remaster and two bonus discs of demos and rehearsal recordings.
By the mid-’80s, the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) had ripped through the world like wildfire, with metal moving away from the blues riffs of its early days and accelerating the tempo. The many thrash offspring, such as Metallica and Slayer, have stepped up that arms race further. In this landscape, Candlemass were retro fetishists from a corner of the map that hadn’t yet established itself as a metal stronghold. As Black Sabbath fans, they crafted a whole blueprint of the slowest, creepiest songs in their idols’ catalog, such as “Into the Void,” “Electric Funeral” and of course the song often cited as the very first example of doom metal, “Black Sabbath.” Candlemass strove in the opposite direction of their most popular contemporaries, but much like thrash bands’ giga-warped take on Iron Maiden’s galloping riffs and the lo-fi corruption of black metal bands of Venom’s vision, they made Sabbath’s sounds their own. taking them to the extreme. Thicker riffs, slower tempos, more operatic vocals, more gothic synths, nerger lyrics – these were Candlemass’ ambitions.
The melodies on Epicus Doomicus Metallicus are dramatic and expansive without being overly complex, alternately hinting at pre-Renaissance origins and/or the most basic skeletons of classical music. Especially during acoustic passages on songs like “Under the Oak” and “A Sorcerer’s Pledge,” it’s easy to imagine the music coming from the funeral rites of a cruel medieval dynasty. (On their next album, the band even covered the most famous funeral march of all time.) epicusThe deceptively simple trick is that, when transposed onto drop-tuned, distorted electric guitars, these melodies make the meatiest blues riff sound like a kitten’s meow. Witness the transition on opener “Solitude” where, just as a mournful acoustic guitar line dies out, an electric infade plays a version of the same melody, but simplified in a brute-force way that instantly awakens the lizard brain. This is what striking gold sounds like: a simple, almost accidental discovery that, over time, led thousands to believe it was as easy as sticking a pan in a creek.