When I first heard Candlemass’ “Death Magic Doom,” I was blown away. “If I Ever Die” is one of the finest songs I’ve heard this year. The pace is solid, the construction is peerless. The lead guitar riff wastes no time, and is instantly infectious, which is no doubt a side effect of its simplicity. The riff is so compact and well put together that you wonder how it could be possible that no one else thought of it. Couple all this with new singer Robert Lowe (no, not that Rob Lowe,) who could easily pass as an imitation for Dio, and the album is off to an amazing start.
After that though, the momentum fades. The listener goes from the fast-paced artistry of “If I Ever Die” to the plodding, droning, ponderous steps of “Hammer of Doom.” At first, it seems like a clever juxtaposition, but becomes forgotten as “Hammer of Doom,” continues on roughly the same path for more than six minutes. Still, the song has value as a table setter for the rest of the album. “Hammer of Doom” feels much like a set up for the story that will unfold over the rest of the tracks. It is dramatic, thundering, and appropriately sparse (except for the chorus,) to set up the standard forlorn imagery so common in Scandinavian metal. It seems as though the song will take off at about four minutes in, but then crashes back to the grind before it really hits stride.
So then we come onto “The Bleeding Baroness,” a song that shares much with its cousin “If I Ever Die.” It has a similar hook-laden riff that catches the ear based on the simplicity of its construction. It’s crisp and sharp, and Lowe’s vocal prowess is layered over the top of everything else. There’s a curious turn though, as the song comes into its powerful but stodgy chorus, which gateways into the onerous middle of the song. This goes by before too long, and then the song picks back up, although the chorus haunts the rest of the duration.
After that, “Death Magic Doom” becomes a wash-rinse-repeat affair. The doom and gloom continues for the rest of the album, which stubbornly refuses to be anything but a labored, heavy revival of doom metal. Be it “Demon of the Deep,” or “House of 1000 Voices,” or “Clouds of Dementia,” they all boil down to the same common denominator.
There is one more great song to be had, which is “Dead Angel.” Similar to “If I Ever Die,” or “The Bleeding Baroness,” it gets out of the gate in a hurry, and pounds along without stopping…that is until it’s saddled with an unwieldy, marginally out of place chorus that would fit any other song on the album better.
“Death Magic Doom” succeeds on a few levels. Through its construction, it effortlessly conjures up bleak, desolate imagery, and creates a mental picture fitting the album’s theme. It also is a product of Candlemass’ many years’ experience in crafting well thought out doom metal. The orchestration is excellent, the arrangement is exemplary.
As for the title of the album, I agree with them about “Doom.” Death and Magic I’m less sure of. The album is remarkably unified, which is both its blessing and its curse. While it is haunting and image-laden, it is also slow and melodramatic. The riffs are simple almost to a fault; in an effort to create a foreboding emotion on the album, there is a lot of empty space between notes. Most of the songs, with the exception of “If I Ever Die” drone on either for periods or for too long altogether.
It’s difficult to call “Death Magic Doom” a bad album, as I don’t think it is. I will say however, that it is very much a specific sort of metal album. If you just can’t get enough doom metal, this is totally for you. If you’re more in the theatre of power or dramatic metal, I’ve heard it done better other places. Lastly, if you’re all about speed metal, look elsewhere.