Back in 1986, thrash was the name of the game. That was the year Metallica's Master of Puppets and Slayer's Reign in Blood hit the metal world like iron fists to the face, setting bold new standards for speed and musicianship. Playing slow just wasn't considered cool, and hardly anyone was doing it. Enter five young Swedes calling themselves Candlemass. High on the fumes of Black Sabbath and Tony Iommi's ominous riffs, they unveiled their lumbering full-length debut, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, to an underground that was obsessed with going fast. And yet: Along with a tiny handful of bands like Saint Vitus, Pentagram and Witchfinder General, Candlemass helped lay the earth-shaking foundation for the modern doom pandemic.
Unfortunately, singer Johan Längquist left Candlemass immediately after Epicus was recorded to focus on his other project, Jonah Hex. But the band persisted, embarking upon a long and storied career with a revolving door of vocalists at the helm. When Epicus turned 30 in 2016, Candlemass re-teamed with Längquist for a series of highly successful anniversary shows. What was at first a temporary arrangement—the band was fronted by vocalist Mats Levén at the time—soon became permanent when they asked Längquist to officially rejoin. The result is The Door to Doom, the first Längqvist-fronted Candlemass album in nearly 33 years. Not only was it recorded by mostly the same lineup as that of Epicus—it also features a guitar solo by no less than Iommi himself on the song "Astorolus – The Great Octopus."
We recently caught up with Candlemass bassist, lyricist and all-around mastermind Leif Edling to discuss the album and the band's reunion with Längquist. Because Edling has been suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the last few years, he answered our questions via email. His responses have been edited for clarity.
WHY DID YOU WANT TO BRING JOHAN LÄNGQUIST BACK INTO THE BAND?
LEIF EDLING Because we felt something had been lost. We had just kept going for years and years, and sometimes you need to stop and ask yourself, "Why am i doing this this?" For us it was too much work, too much business, and too many problems. We needed to go back to the origin of doom, back to the basics of it all. Find the heart of doom again. Johan loved the idea of going back to Candlemass again, and we love to have him back!
WHY DID HE LEAVE CANDLEMASS AFTER RECORDING EPICUS DOOMICUS METALLICUS BACK IN '86?
He had his own band, Jonah Hex. They were kinda happening up on the northwest side of Stockholm. But since he was mates with our drummer, Mats Ekström, he was ok to sing on the record. I'm sure he got some money for it. Unfortunately, he didn't want to join the band after recording Epicus with us. We tried to persuade him for weeks, but he refused. So after Epicus we nearly died. We were lucky to survive. And then some bloke called Messiah [Marcolin] got in touch with me a bit later on, and things never were the same, hahaha!
JOHAN TRIED OUT FOR CANDLEMASS AGAIN PRIOR TO THE RECORDING OF CHAPTER VI IN '92. WHY DIDN'T IT WORK OUT?
Don't know, really. He did a good job. My guess is that we wanted somebody more metal at that point, and Thomas Vikström was the hottest singer in Stockholm at the time. He thought he had hit the mother lode joining Candlemass in '92. Instead he found a band that was really tired, not wanting to tour, not wanting to get out of Sweden, not wanting anything. But we had fun. We played many gigs in Sweden for the first time ever, and partied like there was no tomorrow.
HAS JOHAN BEEN DOING MUCH MUSICALLY OVER THE LAST 30 YEARS?
Not that much. More or less just working on his demos — pop and rock, [but he] kept the voice over the years, which we heard when he tried out some songs in the studio. Wow. He totally blew me away! Johan has got something that works so well with our songs and the style of music we play — something very emotional, strong, epic …
WHY DID YOUR PREVIOUS VOCALIST, MATS LEVÉN, LEAVE THE BAND?
He had done a good job for Candlemass during the recent years, so no shadow on him. We just felt that we needed to do something different with Candlemass. I felt that the heart and soul of Candlemass was disappearing and it wasn't a good feeling. So I wanted out six months ago. Couldn't take it anymore. Way too many emails and problems; too much business, too little fun. I told the band I was leaving after the record was finished, Instead we ended up telling Mats that we're gonna go with Johan instead. Go back to basics, go full circle … Fuck the business, fuck everything. Have fun!
CANDLEMASS HAS HAD MANY VOCALISTS OVER THE YEARS, INCLUDING THREE SINCE 2012. HOW FRUSTRATING HAS THAT BEEN FOR YOU AS THE BAND'S MAIN SONGWRITER AND DRIVING FORCE?
I agree — too many singers and I apologize. Of course it's not ideal to have this revolving door thing with all these vocalists. We don't have a choice, really. Things are what they are. It is frustrating. [It's like] our version of Spinal Tap. So I really hope this is the last time we change singers. Johan has come home now — home to Candlemass. If we do this for one year or two or three, I couldn't care less. We're gonna have a blast!
ON THE OTHER HAND, THE REST OF THE CANDLEMASS LINEUP IS THE SAME AS IT WAS IN 1987. IN WHAT WAYS DOES IT FEEL DIFFERENT THAN IT DID 32 YEARS AGO? IN WHAT WAYS DOES IT FEEL THE SAME?
It isn't like it was back then. We never rehearsed with Johan. We just saw him in the studio and hung with him a bit after. We never played a gig with him. But still, 32 years down the road, it is like seeing an old friend again. Now, we've done some gigs with Johan — those Epicus anniversary shows in Stockholm, at Roadburn and the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. It was so much fun! He is a super cool, very relaxed, sweet guy. He's one of us! Like having a brother back!
WHAT INSPIRED THE ALBUM TITLE THE DOOR TO DOOM?
Our situation — the old geezers back on the road to hell, opening the "Door to Doom" again, never knowing what's waiting behind it. Could be anything!
HOW DID YOU APPROACH THIS ALBUM DIFFERENTLY THAN YOUR LAST ALBUM, PSALMS FOR THE DEAD?
We normally rehearse a lot before an album, then enter a studio for ten days and do the album. Bang, boom! Now, since I got this bloody Fatigue Syndrome thing, we couldn't rehearse. I just couldn't do it. So instead I worked on demos for a couple of months and went to the studio whenever I had the energy. Then we put drums on it; after that guitars and vocals. Not the ideal way to make an album, but everybody was very much in the loop of it all, so it felt like a band thing anyway.
WHERE DID YOU LOOK FOR LYRICAL INSPIRATION?
You watch the news, open a magazine, buy a paper — I still do everyday — [and] there you have plenty of inspiration for lyrics. I have a couple of songs on the album that are about my disease, the monster story "Astorolus," the end-of-the-world-or-is-it lyric "Omega Circle," … also one about Mr. Trump, "Splendor Demon Majesty." What a guy! Well, to be honest, the lyrics are not totally about him — just about any demon/tyrant/dictator/shrewd businessman that wants run things "MY WAY!!" no matter what — with lies, deception, greed, with pure evil. I could go on forever here, but to sum it all up: It's a scary world out there and Mr. Trump doesn't exactly make things better.
DID YOU TAILOR THE LYRICS TO JOHAN'S SINGING STYLE AT ALL? DO YOU GENERALLY TAILOR LYRICS OR PHRASING PATTERNS TO THE SPECIFIC SINGER?
Yes, I do — most of the time, anyway. With Johan singing the songs, I took away some words so he could put in more feeling, glide over the notes more. We were there in the studio trying things out together with the producer Marcus Jidell. Johan is extremely easy to work with. He gladly tries different melodies or another approach. He's a joy to work with, and I think he did a tremendous job on this record.
HOW DID YOU CONVINCE TONY IOMMI TO PLAY ON "ASTOROLUS – THE GREAT OCTOPUS"? I KNOW YOU'RE A HUGE FAN OF HIS, SO THIS MUST BE A DREAM COME TRUE …
Very much so. I couldn't believe it when he said yes! Tony Fucking Iommi is playing on my song! It was not easy to keep my mouth shut about it for three months or so … [Laughs] But if you aim for the stars, it might come true. All you need is to ask. We did, and he said yes. Not more to it than that, really. Well … maybe he liked the song also! [Laughs] We're also not totally unknown to the Sabbath camp. They did a tour of Europe back in '92, I think, and we should have been on it, but for some reason it never happened.
LOOKING BACK AT YOUR CATALOG, WHICH CANDLEMASS ALBUM DO YOU FEEL HOLDS UP THE BEST, AND WHY?
I have named several during the years, but today I have to say Epicus. Of course, Johan is still doing those old songs more than justice. He sings them like a motherfucker! They are still heavy, but also with a metal edge, and very grand/epic at the same time. There's some kind of timeless feel over them. We can play them over and over again, year after year. The fans never seem to get tired of hearing "Under the Oak" or "Solitude" or "Demons Gate." And we're not bored of playing them!
CONVERSELY, WHICH CANDLEMASS ALBUM IS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE, AND WHY?
Nowadays, it has to be Dactylis Glomerata. Some of the songs were good on it, but it lacks feeling and soul. Maybe it was the production, but I can't listen to it today. I know I've slagged them off before, but albums like Ancient Dreams and Chapter VI are totally OK for me these days, Ancient Dreams especially. Killer stuff on that one!
DOES THE BAND MEAN SOMETHING DIFFERENT TO YOU TODAY THAN IT DID WHEN YOU FIRST STARTED?
Candlemass is my baby! I'm sure the other guys in the band say the same thing. Candlemass has been blood/sweat/tears/joy/fun/frustration, etc. I have had some of the best moments of my life in Candlemass and some of the worst also — like a marriage! [Laughs] We've had ups and downs but here we are, 32 years later, and we actually all still like each other and can hang together, not only out at the gigs. So I would say that the band means a lot more to me now than in the beginning. And we're not done yet!