Welcome surprise from a group of the genre's elder statesmen
This album represents something that Candlemass fans probably never thought they (we) would see: a reunion with the supremely talented vocalist who helped establish their reputation and even their trademark sound in the first place. No, not Messiah Marcolin. We're talking about Johan Langquist, who lent his extraordinary pipes to the band's debut album, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, thus actually kind of laying down a template for what Messiah would do with the band. Of course, Langquist and guitarist Klas Bergwall never became full-fledged members of the band, contributing to the album strictly on a session basis. The band's "classic" lineup, of course, emerged when Marcolin, lead guitarist Lars Johansson and drummer Jan Lindh (who replaced Epicus-era drummer Mats Ekstrom) joined. So the lineup here--Johansson, Lindh, bassist/ mastermind Leif Edling, rhythm guitarist Mats "Mappe" Bjorkman and, for the first time in a full-time capacity, Langquist--represents something of a Candlemass dream team we never got to hear on a studio album. Until now.
In the opinion of some fans, myself included, even Marcolin's fairly iconic performances on the three albums Candlemass recorded after Epicus fall short of the intense, impassioned vocals Langquist delivered on that album. (Just listen to the two very different studio versions of "Under The Oak" the band recorded with each of them to hear what I'm talking about.) Edling himself apparently tried in vain to convince Langquist to join the band full-time on at least one prior occasion, so apparently he has also had a special regard for Johan's talent. For some fans, the only thing that could be better than Marcolin rejoining the band would be Langquist doing so. Also, keep in mind that for a while, it looked like the band's career was undergoing a deliberate wind-down, with 2012's so-so, Robert Lowe-fronted Psalms For The Dead at one point expected to be the band's swansong, only for the band to eventually follow it up with a couple of low key EP's featuring the gravelly-voiced Mats Leven. Basically, a Langquist-fronted LP was pretty much the last thing most people expected from the Swedish doom pioneers, given their recent trajectory. Yet here we are.
So, does The Door To Doom fulfill our hopes? The short answer is: no, not quite--if you were hoping for Epicus Part II, that is. But I'd argue that it doesn't really matter, because duplicating the magic of that monster of an album was always going to be pretty much an impossible endeavor. And I think the band knew it, because they don't even try to do so on The Door To Doom.
What they do instead is basically continue the direction started on those surprisingly solid EP's they recorded with Leven--to the point of redoing the title track of the last one, "House Of Doom." It's a thoroughly decent Candlemass song, but not one of their lionized classics, so having Langquist put his own spin on it was a fairly low-risk move. The rest of the material follows a similar stylistic path, basically sounding like the band's recent output with the added bonus of Johan's vocals, while definitely getting a bit more epic, ambitious and almost progressive compared to the aforementioned EP's. Oh, did I mention that "Astorolus - The Great Octopus" features none other than Tony Iommi trading leads with Johansson? They're both in pretty damn good form too.
Really, for anyone who's enjoyed the band's output since the start of the 21st century, there's not much to complain about here. I'll bring up two minor quibbles, though, just to keep readers from encountering any unpleasant surprises: the production is still fairly modern, and definitely not of the warm, boomy variety heard on Epicus; and of course, Johan at this point doesn't deliver the sort of ultra-powerful, relentlessly intense performance he did on that album. However, he still has a fairly unique and very pleasant voice for this sort of music, and that voice has basically aged in the same way the band as a whole has: not really up to revolutionizing doom metal anymore, but more than capable of delivering plenty of what one could expect and hope for from such veterans at this point. So The Door To Doom is not a godlike return to form, nor is it anywhere near a crushing disappointment. It's simply a welcome surprise from a group of the genre's elder statesmen, doing what they still do remarkably well, aided considerably- but not overwhelmingly by the return of one of doom's special voices. They do their thing, and it's good. What more can you say? Welcome back, Johan!
Recommended for fans of: Classic Candlemass, epic, melodic doom in general