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I may not have a large Candlemass library, but this is one band I’ve always loved and greatly respected. I consider their material, especially the early releases, the stereotypical definition of what Metal is to those who don’t know. The music is often creepy, brooding, ominous, and in a way some of the most artistic music you’ll come across within the ever widening field of the Metal way of life. I was not really aware that they had signed to Napalm Records, but when the promo for their eleventh studio full-length dropped in my inbox, I immediately slapped that sucker on a back-up and took to the backroads.

As I drove aimlessly through the backwoods of my home town, exploring areas I had never been to at one in the morning, or at for that matter, I could not help but be swept up in the atmosphere of the music, as well as the land. Take it from a man who has lived there his whole life, northeast Pennsylvania [USA] has a greatly different vibe at the corner of Bumble and Nowhere, one that can leave a person feeling unwelcome. This wasn’t helped by the haunting and occultish tones of Candlemass. The longer “Prophet” and it’s mixture of faster paced material that sent my blood pumping against the trudging, heavier church-organ driven passages sent an uneasy chill up my spine, especially as it faded out to the equally as creepy “The Sound of Dying Demons” and its familiar slower pace. The vocal performance really suiting the environment being established, as if a ritualistic homage set in a fog soaked cemetary you’d expect to see skeletons moving about to. It was an experience that was beautiful with a simplistic chorus that pushed things further thanks to the change in keyboards, though the singing, a bit rougher, didn’t quite grab me as it should.

It honestly didn’t take long for me to crave the vocals of Messiah Marcolin. Robert Lowe is a suitable member to fill his spot, but by far does not match the grim and gothic overtones Candlemass gives off, and no matter how many tracks I went through then, and how many times I’ve gone through this album now (a good several), it keeps nipping at my heals, reminding me how amazing this would sound otherwise. But, that didn’t stop the insanely ominous “Waterwitch” from kicking my ass and matching the cold winds blowing in through the crack of the driver’s side window I intentionally left. The lack of street lights really left me alert for anything, though common sense placed deer and other woodland animals in my path more than the creeping supernatural suspicions that this recording was offering the back of my mind. The guitar solo here, and everywhere else had me banging my head, allowing me a bit of reprive from the shuttering grip that Psalms for the Dead had over me, but never lasting more than a short time. That is, until “The Lights of Thebe” kicked in with the truly emotion jarring eighties synth slasher introduction that immediately stiffened up my entire body, instinctively checking the back seat of my car out of reflex, and having my fiancee in the passenger seat asking me what my problem was. My head began moving again, but this time obediantly to the infectious rhythm, remaining alert to the music during the enthusiastic vocal performance, ghastly keyboards, slower ritualistic drumming and matching chords to the chorus that left everything feeling passionate and beautiful in a darker manner.

The only time I was awakened from this trance was “Black as Time.” “Psalms for the Dead,” a personal favorite of mine to this day, as well as “The Killing of the Sun” and the others not mentioned, all left their mark lightly with the grim touch of occultish death, and I was loving every second of it. Unfortunately, this song features a spoken word narrative explaining the concept of time in this offering, which is something you should never have to do. It goes on for too long and in no way sets the ominous and damning concepts of time that clearly is meant to be felt by the listener, all the while disrupting the flow and atmosphere the previous songs so easily established. The slight echo does nothing other than make me want to lunge for the fast forward button, but I know I’ll end up hitting skip instead, which will hurt the vibe even more if I did. It was at this point I realized I should head home, growing weary of driving, but once the heavily echoed climax to the narrative ended, I found myself listening to quite possibly the greatest track of them all thanks to the heavier, faster verses against an epic yet dismal cathedral-esque (building, not the band) Doom Metal opus that made me feel both dead, and in the casket of my own wake.

But, while I absolutely loved Psalms for the Dead, it didn’t make much of an experience elsewhere. As I mentioned, I have spent several spins with this album in the past few days driving from point a to point b, mostly during the day and wee hours of the rising moon, and nothing quite lived up to that experience. This is a recording that needs the proper atmosphere, or just to be enjoyed with all the lights off save for a faint glow from outside of the moon or candles burning. Psalms for the Dead still makes for some enjoyable and engaging traveling music, but I did find myself swapping it out here and there for something else after a while, largely because of how disconnected I get with the introduction of “Black as Time.” But, overall, if you know a creepy spot you like to venture to, stay at, or anything along those lines, Psalms for the Dead makes for a fantastic release to take on the road with you during or around the witching hour in the most vacant, eerily uninviting rural areas you can possibly find to explore…

Article based on digital review material provided by Napalm Records.

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