Last week on a whim I wrote about “Climbin’ the Walls” by Wrathchild America, an old album that was partly responsible for shaping my heavy metal tastes. I enjoyed writing about it so much I’ve decided to try adding one of “George’s Classics” each week (or so) where I’ll talk about more albums from the past that made a mark on me for one reason or another. Since this week has already seen some doom and stoner albums I thought I would continue the theme by talking about the album that really made me aware of doom metal and is subsequently the album against which I judge all other doom albums. I’m speaking of course of “Nightfall” by Candlemass.
Bands such as Black Sabbath, St. Vitus, Trouble and others can all lay claim to a piece of the original doom metal pie, but Candlemass, specifically with Messiah Marcolin on vocals, was the one that captured my imagination. “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus” was the first Candlemass album, featuring Johan Längqvist on vocals, and is a classic in its own right, but “Nightfall” was their first album that I heard and will always be my favorite.
I can actually remember the day I picked up “Nightfall.” I was living in Michigan, in high school still, and it had to be sometime in late 1987 or early 1988. It was my first trip to the local Ann Arbor new/used record shop landmark Wazoo Records. I can’t say enough good things about Wazoo, the place has character and has been around forever. Ann Arbor being an extremely liberal college town, Wazoo always had a good selection of underground music, more punk than metal, but I still made some good finds there (I also discovered one of my all time favorite bands here, The Ramones.) As I recall there was a small metal section toward the back and I was flipping through the LPs when I came across “Nightfall.” The cover, featuring a classic painting by 19th century artist Thomas Cole, is very dramatic and held my attention. I’d read about this Swedish band somewhere so I knew it was supposed to be good, and how could I not be drawn in by the image of the singer dressed in a monk’s robe? I bought the LP.
In those days I had a combination turntable and dual cassette tape deck. I got the LP home and popped it on the turntable. How could I know the awesomeness I was about to experience? My first two thoughts on listening to “Nightfall” were “Wow, that is some heavy music” and “Holy crap, what a voice on this guy!” I was hooked. My only regret was that, while vinyl sounds cool, it’s not very portable. I kind of wished I’d gone for the cassette version, but I was just sucked in by the large album art. I would later remedy the portability problem when the album became available on CD.
The whole album is a classic, there isn’t a song on there I don’t enjoy, but I do have my favorites. And they are probably the same favorites that most Candlemass fans cite: “At the Gallows End” and “Samarithan.” Sure, “At the Gallows End” is a similar story to “Hallowed Be Thy Name” by Iron Maiden, which came out five years earlier, but it’s still such an amazing song that I can’t help but love it. “Samarithan” has a religious theme (I assume it’s from a biblical story, but I’m not that familiar with such things so can’t say for sure) and speaks of how showing kindness to a poor beggar can help ensure a spot on the right side of the pearly gates. I can do without the religious aspect of it (though the song is so powerful it makes me understand how a good sermon could move a congregation) I just think it’s a good story; more a metaphor for how all people deserve a little kindness, a roof and some food. Kindness is its own reward and all that.
Some of the other standout tracks on the album include “The Well of Souls”, “Dark are the Veils of Death” and “Bewitched.” You really can’t go wrong with anything on this album. And it’s so good to enjoy the whole album from end to end. It’s not a concept album, but it certainly has a mood which extends across all the tracks.
Over the years Messiah Marcolin has left, come back and left again. There have been other singers and other albums that have kept Candlemass going, but “Nightfall” will always be my runaway favorite. I hear they are planning to release an album in 2012 with current singer Robert Lowe (of Solitude Aeturnus) and then disband again. I’ll still hold out hope for one more Messiah album somewhere down the line.