35 Years of Midnight: Reflecting on Candlemass’s Genre-Defining Classic “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus” (Interview with Leif Edling)
Outside of the mighty Black Sabbath, there is no single band more impactful on doom metal than Candlemass, and no album more important than their debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. While they were not the first band to play slow, Black Sabbath-influenced metal, Candlemass perfected it, coining the term for the genre itself in the process.
Though the Candlemass moniker dates back to 1984, the band got their start even earlier as Nemesis, recording a significant amount of material before changing their name. Those years of songwriting let the band, who were led by a young Leif Edling, hone their craft prior to their debut album, as well as learn how to exercise quality control and play to their strengths. Several songs from early material would appear on later releases, albeit initial renditions featured Edling on vocals. Like many young bands, Candlemass initially struggled to maintain a consistent lineup, and the first album would be recorded with not one but two session musicians.
The mid 1980s was a time of rapid escalation for the still-young global heavy metal community. There were a dozen competing directions pulling at the scene; in Los Angeles, bands were getting rich and famous with a sleazy, rocking sound with lyrics about sex and partying, and in dives around the world a nascent thrash scene was seizing the underground (and, for a special few bands: the mainstream) by the throat. Bands playing slowly were seen as archaic, and without so much as a concept of "doom metal" as a standalone genre, there wasn’t much commercial space for bands in the style, resulting in sparse label support and fan interest.
Candlemass had no interest in the trends that their contemporaries jumped on, and Edling spent years biding his time as he worked to write the heaviest and most epic songs that existed at the time. His perseverance would pay off; their freshly recorded debut full length, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, rocked the world and kickstarted a career that would last decades. Though the band didn’t receive immediate commercial acclaim (and remained on the same label as Nemesis until they were scooped up by Metal Blade for 1988’s Ancient Dreams), their legacy carries on today. Many contemporary epic doom albums still rely on riffs borrowed from Epicus Doomicus Metallicus; it’s no mistake that bands following in Candlemass’ steps are to this day called "epic doom metal," because the new style that emerged from Epicus Doomicus Metallicus can be traced to this album in a way that almost no other subgenre can so clearly be delineated.
From the gloomy intro at the onset of "Solitude," the album’s tone is set. Few bands in 1986 were as morose, slow, or deliberate in their approach; as much as Manowar’s Into Glory Ride’s slow sections were a counter-reaction to the dawn of speed metal, Candlemass was at the time decidedly anti-thrash. Instead of pedal to the metal speed and insanity with consistent new riffs, half of "Solitude" is the same slow riff, and it ends with the same sad acoustics from the beginning. The album is only six long songs instead of the common four-to-six songs per side formula like most metal long-plays, and lengthy build ups are prioritized over neck-snappers. Johan Langquist’s powerful baritone offsets the comparable wailing tenors from popular glam and progressive bands; his power and control granting him gravitas that matches the music.
For the band themselves, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus is a special album. It’s heavily represented in their setlists, they’ve released a live album that only contains a full set of Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, and the album’s original session singer has been brought back into the fold as their permanent vocalist some 32 years and six other singers later.
It has now been 35 years (and a few days) since Epicus Doomicus Metallicus first came out on Black Dragon Records on June 10th, 1986. Though enough time has passed for several generations of musicians to come and go, the album remains as relevant as ever, especially with epic doom again on the rise with the formation and popularization of high-profile bands such as Crypt Sermon, Smoulder, Below, and Procession carrying on the torch of the genre. In honor of the anniversary, Invisible Oranges got together with band mastermind Leif Edling to discuss the album.
With 35 years having gone by since the release of the album, do you have any introductory thoughts on it looking back?
Just that I'm very proud of it. We had no clue about what we were doing, and for some strange reason pretty much everything turned out really well, and now I’m sitting here 35 years later still talking about that record.
You did vocals on the first demos with the band from the Nemesis days but hired Johan Langquist to sing session on Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. How early had you made the decision to find another singer for the band, and was there ever any consideration towards doing it yourself permanently?
Well, we constantly looked for a singer, so my vocal contribution was always on a temporary basis. I probably would have sung on Epicus Doomicus Metallicus if Matz Ekström hadn’t found Johan in the eleventh hour. Well, actually we knew about Johan before that. Matz had been talking about this really good singer in Jonah Hex (probably played me a demo as well) but when the vocal position in Candlemass still was open, and the record itself in imminent "danger", I’m sure he had to solve the crisis like a couple of days or so before we entered Thunderload studios. That’s what I recall anyway. Epicus Doomicus Metallicus with me on vocals? Not sure we would be here now 35 years on talking about it.
On the original demo of "A Sorcerer's Pledge" you sang most of the song at a slightly lower pitch than Langquist did on the album recording, but the overall vocal range was fairly similar. Were the songs originally written for your voice specifically, and was Johan’s range matching your own related to why you picked him for Epicus Doomicus Metallicus?
I wasn’t that cunning, to design a verse or song for another singer. I just wrote songs in A or E. Well, loose string or fifth fret anyway. We didn’t know how to tune either. And I didn’t pick Johan for Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. Our drummer did. They lived in the same suburb to Stockholm, Jakobsberg. That Johan fitted Epicus Doomicus Metallicusso well was absolutely fantastic. Pure luck... maybe… but Matz did say before the recording that Johan would be perfect for Epicus Doomicus Metallicus.
Other than "A Sorceror's Pledge" and "Crystal Ball", did you have anything else from the earliest demo material that was up for consideration for re-recording for the first album?
We had "Demon’s Gate" and "Black Stone Wielder" from the OAL session earlier, and "Under the Oak" from my "Tales of Creation" thing/concept that I wrote in Nemesis. Only "Solitude" was brand new. Did it a week or so before going down to the sub-basement that was Thunderload. I actually wanted "Demon’s Gate" to open Epicus Doomicus Metallicus but Matz insisted we had "Solitude" as the opener instead. He was right of course.
How early did the drafts for the first songs that would be used on Epicus Doomicus Metallicus get written?
For Tales of Creation, the concept story was written during the very last months of the existence of Nemesis. I would say autumn or winter 1984. Early 1985 the first version of Candlemass saw the light of day and we recorded a bunch of songs in Studio Garaget in Stockholm. That was the very first Candlemass demo, containing "Warchild", "Crystal Ball", "A Sorcerer’s Pledge" and "Into the Unfathomed Tower".
Johan tried out to join the band properly some years after Epicus Doomicus Metallicus but was turned down; what made him the wrong fit for Candlemass then, and what changed to make now the right time for him to be a permanent member of Candlemass?
Because I had a metal singer in mind: Tomas Vikström. I wanted Candlemass to be more metal at that point. I loved Judas Priest's "Painkiller" album and wanted Candlemass to have the same "facelift". Things didn’t turn out as planned, and everything fell apart not long after the release of Chapter VI.
Johan is perfect for Candlemass now. Probably was in 1991 also, but the stars wasn’t in the right position then. But after Mats Levén left us during the recording of The Door to Doom, we realized that we needed to go back to square one again. Back to basics. Mappe phoned Johan and there’s peace, love (n' doom) in the valley again. Actually, had the best year ever in 2019.
Other than Johan, Candlemass also brought in Klas Bergwall to do session lead guitar. What made his lead playing stand out over Mappe’s, and how would you compare Klas to Lasse, who has played lead guitar for Candlemass since Nightfall?
Mappe isn’t a lead guitarist. Mappe is great at playing rhythm, but we needed somebody to do the solos. I knew Klas and I remember we asked him to join Candlemass, but he had his Arrow so he declined. This is why Candlemass nearly fell apart after Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. No lead guitarist, no singer, and on top of it all, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus didn’t sell much so we got dropped by Black Dragon. It wasn’t until we found Messiah (well, he found us) and met Lars Johansson at Stockholm Hard Rock Café, that we got ourselves a line-up. Finally!
Lars is a true guitar hero with a style of his own, like Uli Roth, Schenker, Blackmore, Yngwie. To me he can stand up to all the ones previously mentioned.
To this day, songs from Epicus Doomicus Metallicus are highly represented in the Candlemass setlist and were even recorded for a special live album from a set at Roadburn. What makes Epicus Doomicus Metallicus special compared to the other albums that merits that revisiting in a way that not all of your other material gets?
Well, all our albums from the 1980’s are a bit special if you ask me. Our fans love the four of them including the live album. Some years we actually play most songs off Nightfall. But yes, you’re right…we could play more songs from Ancient Dreams and Tales of Creation live. Maybe in the next coming years when all these records celebrate 35. And yes again…Epicus Doomicus Metallicus IS special and one of a kind. Maybe because it was the first one…the first born. I’m extremely proud of it. Those songs I could play live ‘til the day I die!
Outside of that Roadburn set, you guys have mostly left "Black Stone Wielder" out of your setlists despite playing the rest of the album very frequently. Is it because you feel the song doesn’t translate as well live, or something else?
It's long and complicated, so it is often left out of the set. Easier to pick one of the more instant songs from Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. But some years we don’t play "Demons Gate" or "Crystal Ball", so it’s not like we always play 5 of the 6 tracks.