Matches the scale of the album cover,
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This review is from: Ancient Dreams (Remastered / Expanded) (2CD) (Audio CD)
It would be really hard for me to give a Candlemass album any less than 5 stars, but I did consider giving 'Ancient Dreams' 4. Hopefully, by the end of this review my reasoning will be explained.
However, I'd like to start with the album cover, a copy of Thomas Cole's painting 'Youth'. That cover is a lot for any band to live up to, isn't it? There's a gorgeous, primal countryside with a foreboding mountain lurking at the horizon, above which we can see a temple in the sky - the celestial city. In the foreground is a tiny boat with two figures reaching towards that distant and unearthly emblem, straining to touch the unreachable.
And yet, that scene describes Candlemass so exactly. The band sound, in a completely non-denominational sense, utterly godly as they stretch a musical finger towards the perfect city in the sky that, as we can tell from the fact they are playing doom metal, they know they will never reach. There is a hopeless crushing quality to the music and lyrics that in no way undermines the joyous celebration that those epic riffs seem to create: the vastness of the sound and vision is matched only by the emptiness of the reality, because without that mirage on the cover, it is only a man alone in a boat and without those sublime ideas Candlemass is only five Swedes with instruments and dodgy haircuts (seriously, Google Leif Edling's mullet).
'Ancient Dreams' might contain the most perfectly realised songs of Candlemass's career. 'Mirror Mirror' is a VERY strong opener, but is superseded three times as the best song on the album. 'Darkness in Paradise' has a wickedly haunting vocal line and the main riff sounds like a salute to angels; 'Bearer of Pain' is lyrically very involving and has a great solo; 'Ancient Dreams' really does sound like the sky opening up and the mysteries of the universe being revealed, even though the theme is concerning the futility of hope and the eternal longing that won't go away. Aside from those exquisite moments there is a good general mixture of signature Candlemass elements. Slower songs are well balanced alongside faster riffs and sections, the leads are usually creative and satisfying and Messiah gives perhaps his best performance with plenty of nuance alongside his famous power.
My complaints, however, are directed at 'Incarnation of Evil' and 'Black Sabbath Medley'. Sad to say but 'Incarnation of Evil' does not really sound like a Candlemass song, nor does it sound like a song by any other band I want to listen to. The performance is flat, too slow and lifeless and the riffs and vocal lines are very forgettable, not to mention the horrible cliche of the lyrics. 'Black Sabbath Medley' is not particularly bad, I just don't find it a helpful addition to this version of the album - I would prefer to just have a copy on disc 2 alongside the live tracks.
Now, to explain my 5 star rating. If those two songs mentioned above were removed from the release, 'Ancient Dreams' would contain 7 songs and be 45 minutes long, which is plenty of time for a doom metal album, especially when the songs are as well developed as they are here. Of those 45 minutes, there is ONE fault that I can find, which is the high note that Messiah hits in the chorus of 'Bearer of Pain'. That gets on my tits, but everything else is sublime. Everything else makes me hope that I could touch that castle in the sky.