FEATURE INTERVIEW – CANDLEMASS “I didn’t really realise just how influential and important ‘Epicus…’ was until about ten years after the album was released!” Johan Längquist

Posted on by Oran

Johan Längquist of Swedish-based Doom legends Candlemass checked in with Overdrive ahead of the bands’ long-awaited return to Irish shores this September for Clang Metal Festival. 

There are not many bands that can claim a defining influence on a specific genre, but Candlemass is one of those bands that can do just that but choose not to.

From their groundbreaking 1986 debut ‘Epicus Doomicus Metallicus’ the band has since released a new album ‘The Door To Doom‘ and a follow-up EP, ‘The Pendulum‘ with original vocalist Johan Längquist who returned to the band after an absence of 32 years.

OD – ‘The Door To Doom’ is now over a year old, when you look back prior to the release of the album, were you anxious in any way seeing as you were absent from the band for over 3 decades?

JOHAN – No actually not at all. I’ve been into music all of my life and have been involved in other projects here and there. What is most important for me is that I like what I do and when I first heard the new Candlemass material, I was really impressed with the songs and I just knew then and there that it was the right thing to do. Once I enjoy and like something, there is no sense in being anxious about it.

OD – When the guys contacted you and asked you to check out the new material prior to your official return to the band after so long, did you have any hesitation about returning to this business?

JOHAN – No I actually felt very confident about returning. It’s every musician’s dream to be able to live on your music but unfortunately, it’s very hard to accomplish this. I’ve had very close friends who have been full-time musicians all of their lives and they are just getting by, so I’m pretty prepared for everything that’s involved with the business from the relentless travelling to dealing with all kinds of characters in this business.

OD – Not only did fans get a new Candlemass album but last month we saw the release of ‘The Pendulum’. A further six tracks that, from what I believe was originally supposed to be part of the album. Was it true that ‘The Door To Doom’ was originally going to be a double album? And at what point did you decide to release this EP?

JOHAN – Actually when I was recording ‘The Door To Doom‘ I was unaware of ‘The Pendulum‘ songs. I just went into the studio and recorded the album and then hit the road doing a few shows pretty much right away, so, I really didn’t know that there were a few other tracks from the writing sessions that were not included.

I know that Leif (Edling) was not satisfied with how the songs sounded and you know…sometimes with anything creative you need to stand back and leave it alone for a while. I think that was the main reason why those tracks didn’t make the final album.

OD – Well, that was good news for Candlemass fans as we have now got another EP to enjoy as well as the latest album.

JOHAN – Yes and you know it was about two or three months after we had completed ‘The Door to Doom‘ when I finally learned that there were other songs which resulted with ‘The Pendulum‘ EP.

OD – There are not many bands that have a member return and then get nominated for a Grammy. Was this a surprise for you, or do you not care much for awards?

JOHAN – [Laughing] Yes, I was very surprised. We all were! Candlemass has been around for so many years without me and when we heard about it we were all very much in shock! We couldn’t’ believe it. Of course, we didn’t win, but just to be nominated was a huge achievement for us.

OD – Did you attend the awards?

JOHAN – At the very same time, I had planned a vacation with my family. We had arranged this holiday almost a year before we knew about the Grammys. I was thinking about flying with my family and then over to the awards and then back to my family again and it just seemed to be very complicated and so I decided to not attend.

The other guys were there and they had a great time.

OD – With regards to Tony Iommi guesting on the album, Leif (Edling) had said it was as simple as him sending a message to Tony’s manager and him agreeing to do it. Were you surprised when you found out that he had agreed to do it?

JOHAN – Yes, I was very surprised. Tony is one of my all-time favourite guitar players. He’s the Grandfather of Heavy Metal and honestly, it was such a great honour for all of us but especially for Leif, as he is a huge fan. He [Leif] didn’t expect him to do it and was totally surprised when he [Tony] agreed.

In fact, Leif told me that he and Mats “Mappe” (Björkman – Guitars) were talking about it beforehand and ‘Mappe‘ had said; ‘There’s no way Tony is going to do it”, and Leif said: “Well, you never know, he might do it. I’ll send him an email anyway and see what happens.

Well, Leif was right and Tony responded and said; “Yes“, which was just amazing.

OD – Have you had the pleasure of meeting Tony Iommi?

JOHAN – No, unfortunately, I’ve not met him but I’ve met another ‘Tony‘… Tony Martin (Black Sabbath – Vocals ’87-’91). I did a gig many years ago with Candlemass and met Tony [Martin]. He was a very nice guy from what I can remember. [Laughing]

The legend – Tony Iommi

OD – With the world on pause at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic have you or any of the other guys had time to start working on new material?

JOHAN – Well, me personally, I’ve been working a lot. Since day one of me returning to the band regardless of the pandemic, we’ve been so busy with travelling and day to day general business stuff that I’ve not had the headspace to write. But when you consider Leif,  I don’t think he will ever stop writing [Laughing].

He’s an amazing songwriter and I think at this point all I can do is my vocals as best I can. At the moment there are no songs written that require my vocals. Leif is the main songwriter for the band and when he brings the ideas to the table, that’s when I get involved and all I try to do it perform the very best vocals that I can.

OD – When you look back on “Epicus Doomicus Metallicus’, did you [or any of the other guys] realise that you were creating such a seminal album?

JOHAN – None of us expected that album to be as successful as it was. Leif has told me many stories from that time when the album was either just about to be released or it had just come out and friends of his had heard it and were saying stuff like; “Wow, that’s a really strange-sounding album, if this is what you like then carry on, and good luck, hahaha.” 

It was a hugely important album in retrospect. To be honest, I didn’t really realise just how influential and important ‘Epicus…‘ was until about ten years after the album was released when I was reading a newspaper and there was a very famous band… I can’t remember who it was now…[Laughing] anyway, that said their biggest influence was from CandlemassEpicus Doomicus Metallicus” and I was just thinking; “WOW, that’s our album!

OD – So, you were oblivious to the popularity of the album for a full decade!

JOHAN – I just didn’t really think about it in that way. I didn’t have much contact with the guys in Candlemass for about 10/12 years, even though we were good friends. Our lives were just on different patterns and we were young and just busy living life. This was before all the social media and stuff like that, so it was not that strange to be out of contact with people for long periods of time.

I was just very surprised when I discovered the news and have now seen the impact that the album has had on the heavy music scene as a whole.

OD – Is there anything that you remember from the recording sessions for ‘Epicus…’?

JOHAN – Recording albums back then was a very different experience to how it is today. I remember going over to the studio for a few nights in a row to record all the vocals. The whole process was very quick and kind of uneventful. [Laughing].

OD – The live shows cover material from ‘Nightfall’ (1987), ‘Tales of Creation’ (1989) as well as ‘Epicus…’ and of course the latest album. With regards to the other albums, have you experimented with the vocals as they are on a very different range to yours?

JOHAN – I must say that I really do like all the songs that I’m doing with the band right now. Messiah (Marcolin – Former Candlemass vocalist ’87-’91) has a very different vocal range to me so I had to push myself a lot to reach the highest notes when I’m singing those songs. I really enjoy singing that stuff and even though at times I feel that I can get a little distorted, it’s the right music to do it do, if you know what I mean. [Laughing]

Also, I don’t sing the songs exactly the way Messiah sang them, I put my own twist on them and I think it sounds pretty good. If I tried to copy anyone else, it wouldn’t sound good.

When I returned to the band, we actually had this conversation about which songs I would feel comfortable doing live and I was very comfortable doing stuff from ‘Nightfall‘ and ‘Tales of Creation‘ and picked a couple of songs from each of the albums and if they [Candlemass] wanted me to do a specific song, they would call me up and I would give it a go. I do those older songs in my own way and I really enjoy it.

OD – And the other albums (‘Ancient Dreams’, ‘Tales of Creation’, ‘King of the Grey Islands’, ‘Chapter VI’, ‘Death Magic Doom’)?

JOHAN – No, not yet, because we have the new album to promote now and that has taken up some time in the setlist. There are so many great Candlemass songs and I’m sure we’ll go back to some of the older material over time and introduce them into our live shows.

Also, there are some songs that we have to play live because they are classics, but I’ve no problem picking up lots of the older songs from the back catalogue going forward.

ODCandlemass are scheduled to perform in Ireland at Clang Metal Festival this coming September, which will be the first time the band have returned to Ireland in 13 years and a first for you personally. When performing in new territories, do you approach the shows in any different way as opposed to a place that you’ve performed many times in the past?

JOHAN  – I am so excited to perform in Ireland. This will be my very first time not only visiting there but also performing. This is going to be a very special gig and we all can’t wait for it. I don’t think we’ve ever played with Coroner either, so it’s going to be a very special show.

With shows in places we’ve either not performed in a long time or in this case, it’s a first for me. My ambition is to do my very, very best at every show. The Candlemass fans have been very kind and respectful to me and I will always do my very best to honour them and take care of the moment in the very best way I can. That’s what’s most important for me.

Also, I’m very interested in Ireland and seeing the city of Dublin, the history and meeting the people. I’ve seen movies filmed in Ireland and it’s such a fantastic and beautiful country. I also want to see the Phil Lynott statue. That reminds me of when I was first starting out as a musician, we used to do some Thin Lizzy covers, it was great fun.

OD – In light of so many festivals and gigs having to cancel or postpone this year, do you think that things will eventually return to normal again or do you believe that it will change the format of live entertainment and mass gatherings as we know it?

JOHAN – I really hope not because these events are so special. We’ve done most of the big festivals in Europe last year and it was an incredible experience to see 50k/60k punters all enjoying the atmosphere. Who knows what’s going to happen at this stage? It’s very hard to predict.

OD – What are the plans for Candlemass now looking to 2021 and onwards?
Finally, can you tell us your all-time favourite album that has been a part of your life since you were young?

JOHAN – Well, we were actually supposed to be in North America right now! But that was put forward a whole year. We got visa’s and all of that difficult paperwork and then we go the news that we have to postpone until a year ahead. We have a lot of gigs after the Summer, including Clang Metal Festival, so hopefully, we can get back on stage sooner rather than later.

OD – What is your all-time favourite album that has been a part of your life for the longest time?

JOHAN – [Laughing] Ohhh..there are many, many albums. The best era for me personally is the ’80s and some that come to mind is Judas PriestBritish Steel‘ (1980) and also I really preferred the Ronnie James Dio era of Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell‘ (1980), ‘Mob Rules‘ (1981) and ‘Dehumanizer‘ (1992), I also love all the Rainbow songs with Ronnie. He was such an incredible vocalist.

I just really love that era. The ’80s were so exciting and amazing songs were created during that time. It was an important time for music because people had a lot more freedom to speak, especially about politics in music.

Candlemass ‘The Door to Doom‘ and ‘The Pendulum‘ EP is out now via Napalm Records. Candlemass will be performing at this year’s Clang Metal Festival in Dublin’s National Stadium alongside Coroner, Xentrix, TBC, KLOGR, The Modern Age Slavery, AeSect, Words That Burn and many more. Tickets are on sale now via Eventbrite priced at (€49.99 – with discount code).

Oran O’Beirne

www.overdrive.ie 2020