Here's what I hope will be a lucky thirteenth studio album for Swedish doom legends Candlemass, which is also a third for Johan Längquist, the lead singer on their pioneering debut album, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, when he was only a guest. He didn't actually join the band until 2018 and he impressed on 2019's The Door to Doom with a more lived in voice than three decades earlier. This makes three and only Messiah Marcolin has sung lead on more.
There are no surprises here, of course, because Candlemass are a genre-definer, the band behind the epic doom metal sound, so this sounds like them. There are no unexpected departures, and I'd say that the most surprising it gets is when Jennie-Ann Smith shows up to add some aching texture to When Death Sighs. Given that she's the lead vocalist of fellow Swedish doomsters Avatarium, a band that also featured Candlemass founder Leif Edling on bass for five years, it would be fair to say that the most surprising isn't particularly surprising at all, merely neat. By the way, I see that they have a new album out, which I should tackle here soon.
Doom lives and dies on its riffs and, while Längquist is relatively new (even if he was there at the beginning), everyone else is a time-honoured member of the band. They're all on their third stint with the band, the only difference between them being how early in the eighties they joined and when they came back for the band's first reunion. All showed up immediately for the second and I don't see a single change since, except for the lead vocalist, with Längquist the fourth in this era, also hopefully the last. As much as I love Marcolin's voice, Längquist is sounding better than ever and I'm enjoying this current moment of stability.
Everything here seems strong to me, with the minor exception of a brief outro darkly titled A Cup of Coffin. Wizard of the Vortex does the job right out of the gate and Sweet Evil Sun ups it with an impressive opening riff that adds urgency. The guitar tone here is as solid as ever and the riffs on a few of these songs bite nicely, especially Angel Battle and Black Butterfly, which may well be my favourite songs here. They come after the two openers and ramp up everything the album's done right thus far. I'm not sure about the narration, likely a sample, that closes Angel Battle, but that song itself is a gem and the riffs just keep on coming.
Black Butterfly also gives Längquist a couple of solo moments of emphasis, which work gloriously. I mentioned in my review of The Door to Doom that his voice has matured magnificently, though I'd be surprised if some of that isn't due to 21st century production values. It's even more obvious on this follow-up that his voice is stronger than ever and it just fits with the tone and mood. I see lots of people talking down Nightfall because they wanted Längquist to continue what he did on Epicus Doomicus Metallicus rather than seeing Marcolin join and take the spotlight. I'm not one of those people, but I'm still happy that Längquist is back and I'm happier that he's on top of his game.
There's not much more to mention really, beyond underlining that this is a better album than The Door to Doom, if not by enough to warrant a higher rating. Nothing much here stands out for that extra note. It's all reliably solid and I've happily listened through the whole thing five or six times today, enjoying it just as much and just as consistently every time, but it's not that extra notch up to make it onto my highly recommended list for this year.
I could add that Scandinavian Gods is heavy in a slightly different way, replacing the heavy riffage with held power chords and feedback, but that's not a huge departure. I could mention a teasing theatricality to parts of When Death Sighs. I could highlight the tolling bell that emphasises how heavy Crucified is, even in the company of another eight heavy tracks. I could suggest a Cathedral edge to parts of Devil Voodoo. But none of that will make a difference. If you're into doom, this is another solid release from Candlemass and that's all you need to know.