Normally I would base a review of an album on more than three listens but after listening to W.A.S.P’s Inside the Electric Circus that many times this week, I’ve heard enough. The first three proper tracks on it (the title track, I Don’t Need No Doctor and 95-N.A.S.T.Y.) are the only ones worth writing home about. Fantastic howling, raunchy metal that makes you feel like this could be one of the most fun metal albums ever. The problem is, the rest of this album is mundane. It doesn’t do anything wrong exactly: this is no “hope you like our new direction” misfire. I love what W.A.S.P. did with their first two albums and this continues in that vein but it’s the sound of a band on autopilot. W.A.S.P. knew it too. After the supporting tour and live album (guess which songs from this made it onto that?) they changed tack, releasing the more serious and ambitious The Headless Children. If further proof of Inside the Electric Circus‘ mediocrity is needed: that cover. If you paid money to see an “Electric Circus” and got a dude in a cage wearing a tiger-print leotard and fake claws… you’d ask for a refund. Demand better.
The 1986 debut record of Sweden’s Candlemass casts the kind of pure Heavy Metal spell you’d expect to find scrawled in some dusty old grimoire found in a subterranean chamber. As well as giving the Doom Metal genre its name, the album’s title also describes its contents perfectly. Six ancient tales of myth, legend and tragedy told through Metal of portentous and quaking heaviness.
On Epicus… bassist and songwriter, Leif Edling, offers up a treasure-trove of timeless riffs, all heftily delivered by rhythm guitarist Mats “Mappe” Bjorkman, from the snaky, neoclassical riffs in Demons Gate and Crystal Ball, to the windswept bludgeon that opens Black Stone Wielder and the Am I Evil-esque riff that fires up Under the Oak. In addition to the lumbering guitars, the album’s acoustic passages and doleful harmonies add a bleak, gothic atmosphere.
Vocalist Johan Längqvist’s baritone is sincerely and chillingly emotive: anguished in funereal opener Solitude and channelling some arcane evil in Crystal Ball. He tells all of Epicus’ tales with theatrical flair and melodrama. Lead guitarist Klas Bergwall provides chinks of light and a very European flavour with his lyrical, neo-classical leads and drummer Matz Ekström proves to be the album’s secret weapon, filling the gaps between snail-paced chords with massive fills that sound like the raging elements.
It’s surprising, considering the musical chemistry and cohesiveness, that Candlemass wasn’t really a band at this point. They had been signed to France’s Black Dragon label on the strength of Edling, Bjorkman and Ekström’s demos. Längqvist and Bergwall were hurriedly drafted in for the album’s recording sessions but were uninterested in joining the band on a more permanent basis and after the recording finished, Ekström left the band too. Despite a positive critical reception, Epicus… sold poorly but the next line-up of Candlemass would record another masterpiece that helped boost the reputation of the band, sending many back to the debut.
The legend of Epicus… would grow in stature over time, becoming a mainstay of best-album polls and increasingly cited as an important influence by other bands. While forever associated with its titular sub-genre, it’s a timeless, magical classic for Metal fans of all stripes and still casts a powerful spell to this day.