It’s interesting to watch things come full circle with Candlemass. Having helped reboot doom metal in the 80s with their excellent Epicus Doomicus Metallicus,1 the band launched a career spanning several decades. While their output varied in quality over the years, they are rightfully considered a legendary doom band. 2012s Psalms for the Dead was supposed to be their swan song, and founder Leif Edling has since kept busy with his Avatarium and Krux projects. The urge to reform his original band proved too great however, and for this reunion Leif even managed to dig up original vocalist Johan Langquist, who hasn’t done anything since Epicus Doomicus. I’ve often wondered what Candlemass would have sounded like if Johan hadn’t left and Messiah Marcolin never got to flex his wacky vibrato, so this release held quite a bit of intrigue for me. What direction would they take after 7 years in the doomicus crypticus? What would Johan add to the mix(icus) after sitting so long on the bench? Most importantly, could the band regain some of their potent 80s magic?
Regarding that last question, the answer is a regrettable no. Though the band is in top form musically and Johan shakes off nearly 35 years of throat rust to turn in an impressive vocal performance, The Door to Doom is not Candlemass at their best or even best adjacent. The familiar sound is there, as opener “Splendor Demon Majesty” quickly reveals, with big, meaty riffs and dramatically slow, funerary drumming. When Johan makes his long, long-awaited return to the mic, he sounds solid if a bit tame. His baritone has aged well yet he sounds nothing like he did on the debut, instead reminding me or a proud School of Jørn graduate. Unfortunately, the impact of the band’s joyous reunion is heavily blunted by inferior writing, as the song fails to pop or offer much to remember it by. It’s fine while on but you’ll forget it almost immediately.
And here lies the killer flaw. As nice as the music and hefty nostalgia factor may be, the songs themselves are simply not that memorable or strong enough to hook you into the album and captivate your attention. Cuts like “Under the Ocean” and the ballady “Bridge of the Blind” fail to excite the synapses of my doom loving brain no matter how many times I spin them in hope. I surely respect the performances, and the occasional interesting refrains, but that’s about it. Lead single “Astorolus – the Great Octopus” is the most interesting of the album’s first half, featuring the great Tony Iommi. It sounds the most like classic Candlemass with a larger-than-life epical atmosphere, and Johan lets it all hang out vocally, but there’s not enough of a hook factor present. Things do improve on the album’s much more aggressive back-half, with “Death’s Wheel” providing an urgent punch courtesy of solid doom riffing and more lively writing. It’s hardly an instant classic but it works. “Black Trinity” sounds like a mix of doom and Jørn rock, ending up an enjoyable, groovy number. Closer “The Omega Circle” is the most daring cut, striving for a huge mood and almost getting there as things swerve between weighty riffs and softer, acoustic sections, all held together by Johan’s biggest performance. It’s good but still feels like something is missing though.
The album sounds fine. The guitar tone is appropriately hefty and beefy, and the drums sound great. The nearly 49-minute runtime is manageable, as are the reasonable song lengths in the 5-7 minute range. The band all bring their A-game, and Johan sounds remarkably good for a man who hasn’t been involved in music in a virtual eternity. His delivery is essentially that of a bluesy hard rock vocalist, and there are several Jørny moments where I almost expected Tobias Sammet to pop out of a coffin and launch into a pirate shirt ripping power metal chorus. This is not a criticism of Johan at all, as he sounds fine and gives the material an earthy, gritty rock foundation. The guitar work of Lars Johansson and Mats Bjorkman capture the classic Candlemass sound, but there’s a real paucity of memorable doom riffs present. It goes without saying this is a significant issue.
Sad to say, The Door to Doom is a rather workmanlike doom album. It doesn’t put Candlemass back on the map in a forceful way nor show them capable of recreating the power and glory of their skull salad days. Had this been released by some young unknown act, I would write it off as talented Candlemass worship lacking in song writing chops. I can’t do that here obviously, but the essential point remains. There’s nothing here that qualifies as top-tier fodder for the genre or the band, and I wouldn’t pick this over any of the older Candlemass platters. I’m still a fan and continue to worship their first four releases slavishly, but despite a few fun moments, this particular door doesn’t lead to the comeback I hoped for.