By Carl Begai
So, what’s it like having Ronnie James Dio fronting Candlemass?
A question posed by yours truly to bassist/founder Leif Edling on the heels of hearing Candlemass’ new album, Death Magic Doom, for the first time. All in good fun, and meant as a compliment to “new” frontman Robert Lowe and the material he’s given voice to on his second record with the band. Lowe’s voice and Dio’s are indeed similar, making the comparisons to Black Sabbath that have been following Candlemass around seemingly since their inception that much more fitting. Nobody is complaining, however, especially not Edling
“It’s fantastic,” he laughs. “Have you heard his version of ‘Man On The Silver Mountain’? I was gobsmacked when I heard it. He sounds amazing. Dio is Rob’s favourite singer, so now we’re talking about doing ‘Kill The King’…”
It’s hard to tell if Edling is 100% serious, but given his genuine awe for Lowe’s talents it’s safe to say that covering Dio has at least been considered. Lowe puts in a performance on Death Magic Doom that shames his Candlemass debut on King Of The Grey Islands from 2007, and much to Edling’s undisguised joy it sends the message that the band works quite well without former drama queen vocalist Messiah Marcolin at the helm. Loud and clear.
“The thing about Robert is, he’ll leave the studio to go outside and have a smoke, and then he’ll come back in and sing all these high parts,” Edling offers. “And he’s a chain smoker. The last track on the album, he sings really high, and when he recorded that I was like ‘What the fuck? You had three cigarettes in five minutes and you’re able to do THAT?’ And his response is ‘Yeah, well, Ronnie does it too’ (laughs).”
From the start Edling makes it clear that Lowe is indeed a part of Candlemass rather than a hired gun. Even though present day technology made it rather easy for the Swedes and their US-based singer to write, arrange and record Death Magic Doom without either side leaving the comforts of home behind, they opted for a flesh and blood old school approach for the recordings
“Robert was there with is, absolutely. We demand to have him in the studio, because he is a part of this band. With the previous record the songs were written for Messiah. You can hear that. Robert still does a great job on the album but now you can hear that he’s singing material meant for him. For me the White album (self-titled comeback from 2005) is pretty good, and King Of The Grey Islands is better than that one, and this new one is better than King Of The Grey Islands. I’m not knocking the last two albums, but now we sound like a band. We’ve matured, we have a singer that’s comfortable in the band, and sometimes Robert’s singing gives me goosebumps. And Lasse (Johansson) and his solos… it’s like having Michael Schenker in the band (laughs). He’s just so fucking good.”
Edling has gone on record as saying Death Magic Doom is the best Candlemass album since their second record, the classic Nightfall from ’87. Big talk, but if you give the new album an open mind you understand where he’s coming from.
“It’s mature doom,” he states without missing a beat. “It’s very organic, very dynamic and a nice warmth to it. You can hear a little bit of Zeppelin here and Sabbath there. I always get those Black Sabbath comparisons, so when we kicked out Messiah it was like Sabbath kicking out Ozzy. They brought Ronnie in and people were saying ‘Oh no, you can’t survive without Ozzy…’, and we’ve been getting people telling us we can’t survive without Messiah, so we really have to go out and prove ourselves. As good as the White album was – and I was surprised by this – people were telling us that we couldn’t continue without Messiah and then we did the album; people thought ‘Pretty good, but you can’t pull it off live without Messiah.’ But we did play without him and people thought we were pretty good, so they ran out of things to complain about. We really did have to prove ourselves, like a female cop or something.”
“Working with Robert and being able to deliver an album like this that’s so broad and wide, and can appeal to so many different people from different genres of metal, it’s wonderful,” he adds. “We’ve surprised ourselves to some degree with this album, and I think it would be really hard for us to make a better one. This is an almost perfect album. I can’t say it’s perfect because then I’ll look like an asshole (laughs), and I don’t know if we can write better songs or any of us can play our parts any better. I think this is as good as it gets from Candlemass. Whether people like it or not, that’s up to them.”
In spite of the positive energy currently flooding the Candlemass camp, one expects Edling has been coping with a certain amount of frustration in trying to keep the band alive. It’s a struggle he’s been dealing with since 2002, and one that seems to have ended with the addition of Lowe to the ranks. Edling shrugs it off, preferring to look at the postitives.
“It’s been good in a way because the working climate in Candlemass is so much better without Messiah. We can work together, we can talk to each other and discuss the music without having to deal with an eight-year-old child. But then we have to deal with the people who say we can’t survive without Messiah, so after 20 years were having to prove ourselves again. What the fuck is that all about? But after doing two spins around the globe doing live shows and delivering this album, I hope people will discover it because it’s bloody good.”
Much has been made of the fact Candlemass continues to share Lowe with the legendary doom act that made him famous, Solitude Aeturnus. Asked if he’s made a conscious effort to steer clear of territory that might resemble Solitude Aeturnus when it comes to his songwriting , Edling reveals it’s not in the something he’s ever been concerned about.
“Not so much. I want to separate Candlemass from Solitude Aeturnus as much as possible, so Robert is not doing his normal Solitude Aeturnus harmonies. I write all the harmonies, so they don’t have that oriental touch to them. I try to keep it as Ronnie James Dio as possible (laughs). For myself, I don’t hear that much Solitude Aeturnus on the album, but we’ll have to see what other people think. We definitely do try to keep them seperate. I like Solitude Aeturnus, so I don’t want to ruin that for Robert. I like John Perez (guitarist) very much, he’s a great guy and I don’t wan to piss him off. He’s the American Lee Dorian (laughs). There are no issues between the two bands at all.”
Looking back on the rollercoaster ride he and Candlemass have been on for the last 20+ years, Ed is both surprised and grateful he’s been able to keep things moving forward without selling the band short.
“In the old days we didn’t know about anything. We just released album, went out and played shows, and didn’t think about anything else. We had a lot of success. Nowadays, it’s like a second career, which is unheard of in most cases. People loved the reunion, but to release and album that had critical acclaim as well was fantastic. We didn’t expect that at all. That was cool. But I must say, now we know what we’re doing, we’re not naïve anymore, so for me it’s totally okay when we go to America and have some really bad shows along with the really good shows. We’re prepared for that mentally now. You have to survive Portland, Oregon (laughs). We had fun for a year before Messiah’s ego grew to the size of Texas, at which point we had a summer full of problems. But, we did some great shows, met a lot of cool people, and made a good album. If we hadn’t to done that stuff with Messiah I wouldn’t be here now. We did that, we dealt with it, we survived.”