Candle - The Keeper's Curse - (7/10)
Published on March 12, 2018
A lot of bands that get touted as “worship” acts or “clones” for a number of reasons rarely if ever become as good they’re easily compared to. The reasons are numerous but generally it can be boiled down to the fact that they replicate the surface level aspects of what gave the classics their status and nothing deeper than that. However for a few years now I’ve seen this view as while not completely wrong somewhat limiting. After all, those two terms are applied rather liberally and frequently peg one facet of a band down as their entirety. Chthe’ilist Le Dernier Crépuscule from 2016 is the best recent example as numerous reviewers reduced the band’s eclectic set of influences to a mere case of Demilich worship while in 2011 Portrait’s stellar Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae along with In Solitude’s The World, The Flesh, The Devil were frequently reduced to being disciples before the altars of Mercyful Fate and King Diamond. In reality, the initial similarities the more recent bands have to their perceived progenitors decreases the closer you examine their sound and it is clear they are not attempting to recreate the past as much as form from it their own distinct musical language.
Candle’s debut has a Mercyful Fate style usage of vocal dynamics but compared to Kim Bendix Petersen, Erik Nordkvist’s voice isn’t as shrill, working moreso in the mid to higher range and with a more nasally, hollow tone and occasionally taking on a snarlier tone. Riffing wise Markus Janis and Christian Kanto diverge from Denmark’s original horror metal master’s with an incredibly riffy approach closer to the 80’s American power metal movement bordering on thrash now and then with its denser, furious riffing attack. However where Candle is most similar to Evil or Abigail is in how dynamic their songs are. This is a characteristic moreso prominent to Mercyful Fate than King Diamond especially on the debut where their assorted 70’s prog/psych/hard rock influences combined with early metal riffing for a dextrous and nimble approach that relied little on sustained bombardment wrist motions or streamlined intensity, shifting patterns frequently with changed introduced by both singing and percussion. The end result allows for highly varied songwriting that avoids the shortcomings that many directly NWOBHM inspired bands fall into as well as quite a bit of power metal, focusing moreso on theatrics in harmony and voice rather than catchiness and technical flair. It’s a fairly theatrical performance, more complex than one meets the eye but never really entering obviously progressive metal territory.
Songwriting wise this album has a great deal of variety at its beck and all. After an organ lead Castlevania reminiscent intro, “The Secret” unleashed a cluster bomb’s worth of acrobatic riffing patterns backed up by an off-the-wall performance from Erik, moving between demented shrieks and his big ghostly bellow, all the while counterpointed by amazing axe action. “Betrayal” is a slower track but still demonstrates their ability to create interwoven dialogues of riffing and singing that utilize shining lead breaks and sudden chordal crunch to match every note sung with a fencer’s precision, this time taking a slight Cirith Ungol or even late 80’s Candlemass character with their downstroke crunch weightiness. “Embraced by Darkness” is probably going to be fan favourite off of this album; a tour de force of machine gunning speed metal rhythms closed up by carefully articulated melodies and descending vocal melodies, gut wrenchingly sorrowful in their delivery. It reaches a peak of intensity around its midsection, falling back to the familiar chorus before exploding into a deeply expressionist solo that while slightly buried under the production really shows the band at their strongest with how well it picked up speed and while a little underdeveloped, helps to bring the song to an explosive conclusion. Album-ending epic towers ominously with its gradually climbing harmonies, Erik’s wails striking out like lightning bolts. All of this builds up to an amazing midsection where a Helstar style melodic speed metal riff tears us away into a dangerous roller coaster ride, sending us not to a fiery climax at first but the sudden tranquility of a slower break giving away to a surprisingly reflective solo.
If this album does have some shortcomings it’s that the songs don’t always feel quite as fleshed out as they should be and Erik’s voice, while a talented singer, does fall flat at a few key moments. When he needs to rely on full power he’s incredible but moments that might require a bit more careful enunciation and phrasing feel like they falter somewhat. It sounds off key a little at a few moments but he’s charismatic enough to get through these sections even if there are moments I would’ve wanted a more resonant, thick tone. Other moments like on “Light of the End” and “Dancing Lights” fall a bit flat mostly by nature of being relatively more straightforward tracks, feeling like they need a bit more content added in order to be complete. As a debut album, flaws like this aren’t uncommon and reflect areas where their strengths falter with both Erik’s voice and Markus and Christian’s riffing falling a bit static. However, while they haven’t quite fulfilled their artistic vision, they have demonstrated the concept itself is promising and with time I can imagine it becoming fully realized.