Despite breakups and health issues, the Swedish band’s 30-plus-year career continues with March EP ‘The Pendulum.’
Candlemass staked its place as architects of the doom genre with its iconic 1986 debut, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. While the Swedish band has been active on and off since 1984, the quintet — singer Johan Langqvist, bassist Leif Edling, rhythm guitarist Mats “Mappe” Bjorkman, lead guitarist Lars Johansson and drummer Jan Lindh — recently gained traction thanks to a perhaps unexpected but well deserved Grammy nomination.
It was a first both for the band and its Austrian-based label, Napalm Records. While the 2020 best metal performance honor went to the expected winners and least “metal” of the nominees, Tool, Candlemass’ “Astorolus: The Great Octopus,” with guest guitar work from Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, was a more than worthy contender for the prize.
The track is on 2019’s The Door to Doom, which was almost the record that wasn’t, explains bassist, songwriter and founding member Edling. That’s because 2012’s Psalms for the Dead was meant to be Candlemass’ swan song.
“We had been going for so many years, and we didn’t always put 200 percent into it anymore. And with problems with my blood pressure and health, I hit the wall quite severely. I thought we should give it a rest. And the plan was the rest of the band should carry on [with] playing live without me, and whenever I could, I would join in. But,” he says with a laugh, “when you make plans, a lot of times, those plans change.”
Edling admits that about 70 percent or 80 percent of The Door to Doom’s lyrics deal with his struggles with chronic fatigue syndrome, which laid him low. Only now, he’s finally almost back to normal.
“It’s no fun being in bed for five years,” he understates. And the hangover from that time is in his head and in his music. “When I was younger, I always dreamed about falling from cliffs or high buildings. Now, I always dream I’m about to drown, which is totally about my disease.” (That said, Candlemass played the 70,000Tons of Metal cruise in January, though Edling preferred “margaritas on the beach” to the ocean.)
Vocalizing Edling’s experiences on the album is Langqvist, the band's voice of doom. Yet the record marks the singer’s return to Candlemass after 32 years: The band has disbanded twice in its history, with Edling pursuing other projects in those interims, and there have been five singers between Langqvist’s tenures. The lineup says of Langqvist’s welcome 2018 return: “The circle is closed.”
The power of the rejuvenated group was palpable, though the Grammy nod still left Edling musing about the circumstances surrounding the nomination.
“I mean, you can do a great album, and nobody will notice. You work hard on it and think it’s great. You get good reviews, but it doesn’t sell and nothing happens,” he says. “But you do the same album, like, five years later, and all of a sudden, all things click. I mean, what’s the difference from what you did 10 years ago? … Maybe it’s the secret magic ingredient of Mr. Iommi. I have absolutely no idea about [how Grammy nominations] work.”
However, 2020 is looking to be a banner year for the band. With Candlemass’ full-circle journey, Edling’s health finally on a rebound and the renewed energy from the Grammy nod, the future of doom — Candlemass-style, at least — has never been brighter. And another positive is swinging in the group’s way: the March 27 release of The Pendulum, a six-song EP of tracks cut during The Door to Doom sessions with producer Marcus Jidell in Stockholm.
Initially, in true epic doom style, a double-album soundtrack was brewing in Edling’s head. With about 20 songs in the works — including instrumentals — he began to think his ambitions were too grandiose.
“It was a really good decision to squeeze everything into one single album,” he says. “Even though I’m a big Beatles fan, I’m a big Led Zeppelin fan, [I still believe bands] should only make single records. I mean, Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion; what’s the use?”
The bassist will agree that as concept albums go, Pink Floyd’s The Wall is actually worthy of two records. “But I guess you come to a point in your career sometimes when nobody can say no to you. When you’re Led Zeppelin in 1975-76, nobody can say no to you. When The Beatles say, ‘We have a lot of songs,’ who is going to say, ‘No guys, I think you should cut half of it now. Paul, please?’”
So Edling edited himself, and the resultant EP is not so much leftovers from The Door to Doom as extras, evidenced by the instantly infectious title track that has shades of speedy early Black Sabbath with massive grooves and riffage. “To know when to stop is a really, really hard thing to do," he points out. "It’s easy to go on and on and on and say, ‘Hey, guys, this is f–king brilliant.’ It’s hard to lock yourself out of the studio because it’s fun to be in the studio.”
Indeed, he spends a lot of time hunkered down there: Edling has a young son in school — he drops him off, goes to the studio for “dad fun” for six or so hours — and returns to pick him up. At 56, he’s not a young dad, but he also makes the point that his fellow nominees in the best metal performance category weren’t exactly newbies, either. “We’ve all been at it for ages and ages. Where are all the young bands, you know, who were supposed to kick our ass?” he asks with a laugh.
While the attention from the Grammys didn’t catapult the band to household-name status, Edling has smaller goals: “I have never been endorsed [by a musical instrument company] in my life. Maybe somebody could throw some nice bass amps my way? If you play guitar, they throw the amps on you like popcorn!”