CANDLEMASS – Sweet Evil Sun (Album Review)

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Can you think of a band more renown for the innovation, quality and longevity in the doom metal universe than Candlemass? No doubt “Solitude” as a single song alone has probably done more to shape the sensibilities of the genre than any other track or perhaps even album has since in dour Birmingham, 4 mates got together under the name of Black Sabbath and decided to make the darkest music they could conceive of, all the way back 51 years ago in 1971. Candlemass have released 13 albums prior to their latest one over the course of their existence as a band, all of which have been met with love and acclaim ranging from the quietly respectful to the superlative-bustlingly adored. With this in mind, the legendary Swedish band once again set out to spellbind listeners with their idiosyncratic blend of theatricality, solid musical fundamentals and enthusiastic storytelling in “Sweet Evil Sun.”

With great apprehension and excitement, I approached “Sweet Evil Sun.” I am a huge doom metal fan, from its dark and messy side in bands like 1914 through to its sensitive and profoundly emotional sides in bands like Warning, so to say Candlemass are a source of relative reverence to me would be a colossal understatement. It is always testament to the love you have for a band when news of them releasing a new album is met with trepidation as much as excitement – a want for them to have a perfect legacy, a need for them to remain the beacon of greatness that you perceive them to be. Were I merely a passing fan of theirs, I would feel only the simple emotion of excitement, but the conflicting medley of emotions I am bombarded with when confronted with the task of reviewing a band I hold so dear is as far from simple as it could possibly be. Thankfully, “Sweet Evil Sun” opens fairly strongly with the catchy and imposing “Wizard of the Vortex.” With its typically epic story-line and it’s excellently incorporated doom metal fundamentals that subtly link up with more traditional heavy metal passages, “Wizard of the Vortex” picks up very much where the band left off last. With this said though, I would be lying if I said that I felt the actual chorus was particularly well accomplished, feeling a bit stilted and offbeat in a way that somewhat ruins the overall flow and continuity of the track.

So with a slightly conflicting initial entry into “Sweet Evil Sun” it would be safe to say that my fears had not exactly been waylaid, however the albums namesake and second track is a far more engaging offering. Bearing a delectably meaty main riff and a theatrically oriented vocal performance from the band’s original vocalist Johan Langqvist, who re-joined Candlemass in 2019, “Sweet Evil Sun” is a far more gripping and authoritative track, with much more careful songwriting that is better in-keeping with the style and quality you might expect from such a well venerated band.

On the note of returning vocalist Johan Langqvist, I want to make special note of how much character I think his voice lends to pretty much anything it touches. Johan’s vocal trappings have inspired countless other vocalists since his first notable appearance in the legendary “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus” with his rich lows, shrill highs and strongly pronounced vowel sounds that form a supremely honed and refined vocal approach that has tinges of darkness and brooding that are contrasted against fruitier and more playful asides. With great breadth of style and impressive range on display throughout the opening songs of “Sweet Evil Sun,” it is abundantly clear that in the 35 years since Johan first stepped onto the scene, his instantly recognizable voice has lost nothing in its formidable power and presence.

Upping the anti with some filthy deep and discordance-tinged guitar brutality that reaches a surprisingly rapid tempo is the rapacious “Angel Battle.” Leaving you in no mind as to the cataclysmic event which the song tells of, and flitting with aplomb between hazy doom metal passages and NWOBHM worshiping breakneck segments, “Angel Battle” is a track which successfully embrace the melding between the traditional core of Candlemass, whilst unabashedly laying out it’s more recent sonic explorations. Such a dualistic beast does not befall the all-to-easy folly that is to appear directionless or contrives, and instead provides a fresh, forward-looking composition that will delight the ears of any Candlemass fan, and no doubt those who have somehow managed to avoid hearing them until now.

It is a little bit hard to draw much of a distinction initially between song number 4, “Black Butterfly” and the previous “Angel Battle” with both having remarkably similar sounding riffs and stylistic approaches, but the main distinction between them becomes more apparent as the song progresses on – the lesser presence of an uptick in tempo (though one still exists) and instead a greater focus on a molasses thick sludgy sound. Perhaps it is for the better that Candlemass do have tracks such as this, which lean more heavily into their traditional sound – and yet I can’t help but feel I’ve heard everything that is in this song already when we are only four songs in.

Indeed it would seem that barring entry number 3 on the album, “Angel Battle,” that there is already an issue with a lack of diversity between the songs on “Sweet Evil Sun.” It is not that the compositions are poor as such, but it is that they suck the enjoyment out of one another be recycling or merely face-lifting what comes before it. This sort of self-cannibalization is somewhat inevitable when you’ve made 14 albums as a band, but that doesn’t prevent there from being a sepia of apathy discoloring the visage of the overall product displayed all too soon within the album.

Thankfully, a much-needed dose of variety is injected into “Sweet Evil Sun” by album midpoint and beacon of hope “When Death Sighs.” Don’t get me wrong, this is still a groovy, plodding, imposing piece of traditional doom metal, but the addition of female vocals, a more complicated opening riff, a somewhat restrained post-chorus and swag-laden percussion all combine together to create the best song of the album so far and further, and perhaps more importantly, to refresh what was becoming rapidly more and more stale.

Launching into the realms of Nordic mythology with zeal and incorrigible amounts of affectivity is the also really rather good “Scandinavian Gods” a song the sound as if it could’ve come out of the 80s directly – in the best possible way of course. Very much so, could I envision a track such of this being a live performance staple of many famous bands of the era, with that distinctive focus on being tongue in cheek cheesy and upon fastidiously selling the epic nature of the tale being told, and the rock credentials of the track. Such an assuredly self-indulgent song ought to be too sickly for recommended consumption, and yet much like a family size chocolate bar, just because you probably shouldn’t sit and consume it with abominable glutton, doesn’t mean it isn’t ever so desirable to do so.

The early teething problems inherent in the album seem to have subsided by the time the album passes its center point, with a much more enjoyable and explorative soundscape becoming more and more prominent as “Sweet Evil Sun” passes along. Even if it were to be the case that the album returns to its old ways, some promise for the future has been clearly established in “Scandinavian Gods” and in “When Death Sighs.” Perhaps then it is best said that the album is imperfect, yet still replete with moments of class and refinement, they are just deeper into the album than some may be willing to go.

Instrumental variety is something that I always crave in records, and it is to my delight that “Devil Voodoo” opens up with a wondrously crisp and poignant acoustic guitar section, before collapsing into a jaunty and aggressive tango that without abatement spews energy and drama. Going from strength to strength, “Devil Voodoo” is Candlemass near their best, at any era, in any album. Conjuring visions of misty castles, occult meetings in bleak glades and horrors most foul, 7 tracks into the album, Candlemass find their footing with aplomb and deliver an addictive and punch retort to any criticisms I have levied thus far – that’ll show me.

“Sweet Evil Sun” Album Artwork

Proving that the feint towards the implementation of a more acoustic sound was not a fleeting fluke, and capturing the spirit of “Devil Voodoo” without becoming a derivative of it is the breakneck “Crucified.” I am unfamiliar with Candlemass playing music this fast, at this point, any pretensions of a band stuck in it’s doom metal roots, unable to move or budge from it are completely shattered by an explosive burst of pace and extravagance that slows only to exaggerate and embellish the darkness of the themes of the track. Whilst tempo changes are not uncommon on “Sweet Evil Sun,” nowhere are they more noticeable and well handled than they are on “Crucified.”

It may have taken a while for “Sweet Evil Sun” to endear itself to me, but with the latter half of the albums greater emphasis on a harder, more changeable, more explorative sound it has finally done so. No doubt I will never be in a hurry to listen to songs such as “Wizard of the Vortex” again, but so much of what is in and follows the halfway mark is the band performing and composing as well as they ever have. In a way, the relative failure of the earlier parts of the album to captivate me provide the metamorphosis of the album into something much greater with a contextual undertone that ameliorates what is already very commendable in the later half of the record. In some ways, imperfection can be a blessing, lending a human, tangible, organic side to an album. This is not to say that a perfect album is undesirable, but that there is merit in recovering from a span of poor songwriting mid album, and converting what was wrong into something that is so certainly right. It is of great testament to the spirit and quality of Candlemass, and part of my personal love for them that at some point in the songwriting process, they were able to break out of the tropes they had fallen into – to cast away the chains of mediocrity and grasp with calloused fingers and reddened knuckles the hair thin rope of greatness and climb it to the heavenly precipice at which the later tracks justly reside.

Wrapping up the rollercoaster of sentiments that is “Sweet Evil Sun” is the “Goddess” + “A Cup of Coffin (outro)” combination, which does return to the earlier sound of the album in some ways, but with a greater conviction and with more distinctive riffage that doesn’t feel as irkingly recycled. With its cohesion building circular referencing to earlier sounds, and it’s nods to some of the bands earliest work “Goddess” feels like a heartfelt and worth nod to the long term fans of Candlemass. I would be lying if I said “A Cup of Coffin” wasn’t a slightly odd addendum onto the end of what seemed to be a perfect ending, but it incorporates a round of applause that I suspect was taken from the audience at one of the bands well-known live performances. Perhaps it is there as a thank you to the fans. Nevertheless, the ending of the album is satisfying and brings things to meaningful and resolved conclusion.

The greatest sin committed by “Sweet Evil Sun” is that it is perhaps best to be described as a “slow burner.” The first half of the album is poor, unexciting and derivative of itself. Yet somehow, from the ashes rises a phoenix, and the album returns to the form you would come to expect from a band as legendary as Candlemass undoubtedly are. It would be wrong to pretend that the latent quality of the record vanquishes the qualms generated by it’s opening throws, but it would be equally wrong to say it is ruined by them. As a whole, Candlemass can be content with their release, and no doubt they are anyway, long term fans will find much to be loved and appreciated here, but perhaps will remain slightly disappointed with the end product.

Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: November 18th, 2022
Genre(s):  Doom Metal / Heavy Metal

Musicians:

  • Johan Langqvist / Vocals
  • Leif Edling / Bass
  • Mappe Bjorkman / Rhythm Guitars
  • Lars Johansson / Lead Guitars
  • Jan Lindh / Drums

“Sweet Evil Sun” track listing:

 1. Wizard Of The Vortex
 2. Sweet Evil Sun
 3. Angel Battle
 4. Black Butterfly
 5. When Death Sighs
 6. Scandinavian Gods
 7. Devil Voodoo
 8. Crucified
 9. Goddess
10. A Cup Of Coffin (outro)

Order “Sweet Evil Sun” here.

7.0 Very Good

Perhaps not quite what I and many other fans of Candlemass were hoping for in someways, whilst simultaneously being exactly what we would want in others. An imperfect yet respectable album has gems hidden within its tough to crack shell providing an enjoyable enough listening experience to be worthwhile, if not unmemorable

  • Songwriting 6
  • Musicianship 8
  • Originality 6
  • Production 8
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