Doom Icons Candlemass Bask in the "Sweet Evil Sun"
Epic doom metal is as alive and well today as it has ever been, and it's got to be said how pleasant it is to have the fathers of all of it Candlemass still going so strong providing their hulking guiding presence to the reams of acclaimed and exciting bands channelling the style to a new generation.
Their triumphant The Door to Doom album in 2019 is one of the great returns of very recent memory with vocalist Johan Längquist adding his iconic tones to the first Candlemass record since their epoch-defining debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus in 1986, and new album Sweet Evil Sun shows a stability in this new era of Candlemass as founding member Leif Edling who has guided the band through all its years tells Knotfest.
The Door to Doom ended up being one of your most significant and acclaimed records of recent times and seemed to tick off so many significant boxes with Johan coming back to the band, a Tony Iommi guest spot, and a first ever Grammy nomination. What are your feelings on how that cycle went overall looking back at it and how did that energise you to approach its follow-up?
Well, the journey we did with Door to Doom was immense! People loved the record and in 2019 we played like hell all over the world for full houses, from Tasmania to L.A! But right after the Grammys the world got hit by the pandemic, so unfortunately we had to cancel a whole year of headlining positions. But last year we actually had a whole bunch of great shows both in Europe and in the states. A little payback I guess. I felt very disappointed for a while when the pandemic hit us, but after a while I began to get music in my head and had to write new stuff. So on September 1 2020 I started to demo ideas for something that eventually could be another record and did this for about a year actually. I’m not fast, especially when I’m still battling my fatigue syndrome which is unfortunately chronic also. In November 2021 we started to record the album properly. We did it the old school way properly, and you can hear it on the record. It’s very organic and in your face. I’m very proud! Now we’re getting super reviews for the new record Sweet Evil Sun and we hope that 2023 will be as good. There’s still many bands that are in line to play the big festivals, so we understand this, but the world is opening up now finally and that feels really good.
Candlemass is a band that feels like it has many distinct eras within the band's output, with different members and stylistic ideas having effects on different records. If we are to take The Door to Doom and now Sweet Evil Sun as another new chapter in the Candlemass story, do you have a feeling about what makes this particular period of activity distinct for you?
For me it’s definitely the return of Johan. The return of Johan also meant the return of joy to Candlemass. It’s fun again to play, and I just love to fly all over the world to do it. Recently we flew to Mexico and back just for one show! We’re also getting some fantastic reactions from the fans. Sold out shows all over the place. It’s fun to play doom again.
The production job on Sweet Evil Sun feels quite different to The Door to Doom even though it was done with the same studio, feeling a lot more stripped back. What were you guys trying to go for in the recording of this one in terms of sound?
Door to Doom was done in a smaller room, more like a rehearsal space but with good mics, then pro-mixed by Grammy-prized Niklas Flyckt. This one was done in the big NOX studio with a huge SSL desk, mixed by well renowned Ronny Lahti. I love the sound we got there. Raw, like a kick in the teeth. But also very old school metal. Sounds like a million organic bucks to me!
When Death Sighs with Jenni-Anne from Avatarium and Devil Voodoo are perhaps the two slightly more elaborate songs on this one in terms of different parts and elements. Did those songs require a particular level of detail?
Many songs required this. I worked on the record for 18 months. The only songs that were easy to record and arrange were the title track and Crucified. The others took time. I was fighting my burn out and all the songwriting work, so it wasn’t easy to get a complex song like Angel Battle in place for example. The final touch was the narration that Kenneth Anger did during the heavy outro of it. Devil Voodoo did take me ages to do. After months of work I came up with the steeldrums in the chorus of it, a nice detail that we fixed just probably the day before the mix. And Goddess was a bitch, maybe 6 months of sweat, blood and headaches, but I love the result. When Death Sighs, wonderful duet between Johan and Jennie there, hopefully a coming live classic.
Candlemass' riffing style is so recognisable. Are you the kind of guy who tries to experiment much with tone or different guitar tricks still at this stage in the game or is the Candlemass guitar sound something that you feel you nailed down long ago?
We demoed the songs for about a year, so that was the experimental stage also. We tried different guitar sounds on every song. Tried some Judas Priest kind of guitar (even bought a 70s compressor pedal that they used) and we experimented with different guitars. Of course we ended up using some sort of Tony Iommi tone. In the 80s we used great old Marshall amps and we had a fantastic guitar tone on the albums as well as on stage. Nowadays there’s a mix of old and new on stage, but in the studio we try to use old schools amps only but with different boxes on the songs. Nothing is carved in stone with guitars or drums or anything. We like to keep an open mind. Next album me might try something completely different.
In terms of working with Johan again, how was that for a second album when it's a bit more familiar? Particularly his voice is quite different to a lot of the other singers who have been in Candlemass and that lower, huskier, gravellier approach, does that have an effect on the composing process for Candlemass and how the songs are written?
Johan sang on Epicus our first record, so the fans are, or should be, used to his voice. Sure, he’s different from Messiah or Robert, but that’s a good thing. It'd be a bit strange if your different singers sounded like each other, and I feel blessed, having several fantastic singers on our albums. When Johan sang on Door to Doom, we didn’t have much time to re-do the vocals, but this time we had plenty. We spent about a year on the demos and Johan came in and tried stuff on the songs. Some he nailed immediately, some songs we had to come back to for different reasons. Leave no stone unturned! Johan worked not far away from the studio on a building site at the time so he would come in his car with all the working clothes on, coughed up some concrete, and sang like a motherfucker. I wrote the songs on Sweet Evil Sun with Johan in mind and he did a terrific job!
It's interesting as well that obviously Johan is very important to the Candlemass history for one of your early albums but at the same time you've been playing Nightfall in full a lot too which he did not sing on. How was that in adapting?
Johan is a fantastic singer. I think he can sing everything from jazz to metal to pop. He’s so open minded that his positive attitude makes it easy for him. When other singers don’t wanna do this or try that, he’s willing to do and test anything that you throw at him, so there was absolutely no question in my mind at all that he would sound great singing the songs from Nightfall. And he does.
When Candlemass was releasing those classic records, particularly Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, there was a real sense of going against the grain with how metal was becoming more obsessed with speed and extremity, and you became boundary-pushers by going far the other way and tapping into a different kind of heaviness. When that then inspired a movement and you're now approaching 40 years of a career in this, do you try to keep on your toes in terms of keeping some of that against the grain spirit and some of that particular dark, taboo energy that classic Candlemass has?
Well, we can’t be modern or trendy. We are who we are, and I think that’s why many fans love us. We don’t change. The listener (or the ones that go to the shows) get what they want, and we make sure of it. Back in the day in the 80s and early 90s, we played with so many death metal bands. Sometimes we got booed out, or had stuff thrown on the stage from the crowd when we were teamed up with thrash bands or death metal units, but we kept on playing no matter what. Things like that just makes you wanna play even slower. We’re survivors! We’re the ones that crawl up from an hole after the big bomb.
Are you in tune with much of the resurgence in the last few years of bands playing epic doom metal heavily derived from what Candlemass helped ignite, that are making some of the most acclaimed records in the underground of metal today?
I’m sorry to say, but I don’t have much clue about the scene today. I've got friends that apparently are in some of the coolest doom metal bands today, but apart from Procession, Rune Magick or Capilla Ardiente I don’t know about the newer doom bands. People say there are plenty of really cool bands out there, and I’m sure of it, but there’s so many bands. I don’t know how to find the good ones in the big jungle of releases. We played with a really cool band Ruby the Hatchet last year, don’t know if I'd call them doom or not, but they were good.
Even though there were 7 years between your previous two records and The Door to Doom naturally felt like a bit of a comeback in that sense, you're actually quite a productive band in terms of, especially recently, releasing EPs and singles even outside of albums. We had The Pendulum before Sweet Evil Sun, and the band has never really slowed for a particular long period of time. How is it that you keep that momentum?
That’s a good question! I don’t know. I guess we love what we do. I can’t exist without writing Black Sabbath riffs, and then forming them into some C-mass old school doom. But you also need to release stuff to be alive as a band, and it’s a long career of 35 years. I never thought we would be going for so long, and feels like an eternity thinking about it. In it for life I guess! Last but not least, we’ve had so much attention lately, fantastic reviews for the records and the shows we’ve done, met many ubercool people. It’s a joy to be in Candlemass when all is going great. I’ve seen the opposite side of this rollercoaster ride we’re on, but right now, I pack my bags with a smile on my face most of the time. Can’t wait 'til the next gig.
Sweet Evil Sun from Candlemass is currently available via Napalm Records. Order the album - HERE
Candlemass is slated to embark on a brief West Coast run of live dates in March, in addition to the band's international festival plays, including a highly-anticipated set at Hellfest. The especially intimate club shows will feature special guests and will see the band sharing selections from their latest album, Sweet Evil Sun. See the dates and cities below.
10.03.23 US – Seattle, WA / Substation
11.03.23 US – Portland, OR / Star Theater - SOLD OUT
12.03.23 US – Portland, OR / Dante's
14.03.23 US – San Francisco, CA / DNA
16.03.23 US – Los Angeles, CA / 1720
17.03.23 US – San Diego, CA / Brick By Brick
08.04.23 DE – Munich / Dark Easter Metal Meeting
02.06.23 SE – Blädinge / Muskelrock
15.06.23 FR – Clisson / Hellfest
24.06.23 NO – Oslo / Tons Of Rock