King Of The Grey Islands
posted on 7/2007 By:
The best way I can think to summarize my feelings about King Of The Grey Islands is to compare its release with the Christmas I experienced back around 1981. It was a year when all I truly wanted was this odd looking, futuristic, 6-wheeled battle tank that had a programmable keypad on the roof that allowed a kid to punch in codes in order to map out its soon-to-be path of utter destruction. I nearly threw a nut from the excitement of finding said tank under the tree that year, but following a couple weeks of serious obsession, I ultimately realized the wind-up Evil Knievel stunt motorcycle I’d gotten a couple years prior won hands down when it came to long-term fun-factor. A similar case can be made when looking at Candlemass’ most recent releases. As it turns out, King Of The Grey Islands has pretty much become my programmable battle tank, and much to my surprise, the band’s 2005 self-titled record has essentially become representative of that ol’ wind-up Evil Knievel stunt bike.
Heresy? Perhaps. The idea that so many people have already made claims of “album of the year” in metal forums across the land, coupled with fact that the band now sports one of my absolute favorite vocalists in metal today, and you could probably make a solid case to have me burned alive for crimes of sedition against the King Of The Grey Islands. Alas, now that the hype and the smoke from my initial excitement have finally cleared, this record just doesn’t quite kick my ass with as much oomph! as the band’s incredible return to doom two years ago. It’s incredibly far from bad, mind you, but definitely not as captivating as I initially hoped it would be. In terms of personal preferences, I’d rank this baby comfortably ahead of Chapter VI, Dactylis Glomerata, and even Ancient Dreams (which has always sorta rubbed me the wrong way), but behind the rest of the band’s impressive catalog.
Now I really should offer myself up for a painful, fiery death, because my intention here was certainly not to fling shit at an otherwise solid album, and believe me, this record is solid. There are plenty of elements displayed here that any long-time fan of the band or epic doom in general will enjoy immensely. For example, if you thought the chorus to “Seven Silver Keys” was tragic and sweeping, just wait until you hear the utterly anguishing refrain at the heart of fourth cut, “Of Stars and Smoke”. Not only does this tune feature one of albums many infectious choruses, it also showcases a brazen throwback to classic Candlemass-ian riffing at its 3:20 mark. Track six, “Destroyer”, similarly envelops the listener in a cozy, vintage Edling riff 2:30 in before slowly tumbling into a totally bereaved, Epicus-like guitar lick. And those hoping to be pummeled with the same bright, thundering heaviness so well established on the band's previous effort will find similar headbangability in “Devil Seed” and the incredibly catchy, supremely heavy, “Clearsight”. The album also closes the door quite nicely with a tune that really sticks to the ol’ ribs. If you don’t catch yourself randomly singing “EmBRA-cing the STYX!!!” after spinning this tune a few times, you’ve just gotta be a soulless asshole in great need of an epic doom kick to the head. The song eventually drifts to a sad, hushed end with nothing but simple acoustic guitars quietly plucking alongside Lowe’s smooth voice.
And speaking of “the voice”, unless you’ve been shackled to the wall of a dungeon for the past two years, you’ve probably already heard quite enough about the vocal drama constantly being stirred up in the Candlemass camp. Suffice to say, the boys made a great decision to point their sites on Solitude Aeturnus’ Robert Lowe to fill the (massive) void. Despite the relatively short notice given, I’d say Lowe really stepped up and delivered on King Of The Grey Islands. In fact, he’s responsible for saving a few of these tunes from drowning in some relatively repetitive, lethargic riffs, which is honestly what I found to be the exposed Achilles heel on this beast. There are moments now and again where the riffing limps along sluggishly, and it’s primarily Lowe’s impassioned vocals that swoop in to add some much-needed flavor to break up the humdrum moments. Case in point, the fairly drab “Daemonia 6”, and the beginning of “Destroyer” as well. It’s not an ample problem, however, just enough to cause me to inch back the songwriting score a few notches.
King Of The Grey Islands is an album I fully expect to see land quite highly on many peoples’ year-end lists, mine included. And while I didn’t enjoy it as much as the 2005 self-titled record, I think it serves up a very satisfying slice of epic doom. More importantly, however, this album stands as a necessary stepping stone to allow Lowe a little time to get used to playing in the same sandbox as the rest of these fellows, and once they’ve gelled a bit over the coming year, I really don’t think there’ll be much standing in the way of them releasing a true masterwork of epic doom. Bottom line: King Of The Grey Islands is a solid release, but the band's next effort is the one I honestly expect to be blown away by.
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