By David E. Gehlke
Johan Längquist's 2018 proper enlistment with legendary Swedish doom metallers CANDLEMASS closed the loop on a circuitous journey for both parties. Längquist performed session vocals on CANDLEMASS's landmark 1986 "Epicus Doomicus Metallicus" debut but immediately pursued other career interests. Even though his successor was the formidable monk-robed-wearing, doom-dancing Messiah Marcolin, Längquist's performance on "Epicus" has easily stood the test of time, paving the way for a new generation of doom singers less inclined to sound like Ozzy Osbourne and more informed by melody. It wasn't until years after the album's release that Längquist had any clue of its impact — he spent his time removed from the metal scene in a variety of bands in Sweden.
CANDLEMASS has probably changed singers more than founding member / bassist / songwriter Leif Edling would have liked, but circa 2022, Ländquist is clearly the right man for the job. With work nearly complete on the follow-up to 2019's lauded "The Door To Doom" and shows lined up that will see the band performing "Epicus" in full, Ländquist caught up with BLABBERMOUTH.NET.
Blabbermouth: How did your recent run of shows in the States go?
Johan: "It's been two years, hasn't it? We first went to Boston and I think it was a full house. It was a great night. Then, we went to Houston and that was a full house, too. The audience knew the lyrics and all that stuff; they're singing along during the choruses, which was pretty amazing. Then, we went to Chicago and I don't know if it was a totally full house, but pretty close. They were three great evenings for me. I had a really good time."
Blabbermouth: Were you at all rusty going into these shows?
Johan: "We had a couple of rehearsals before we went. That's pretty much enough. The other guys, they've been playing these songs for, I don't know, 35 years. And I've been doing them for four years. I can do the rehearsals at home and in my head by keeping the lyrics up there. We do not have that many meetings for rehearsal. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: You sing some of Messiah's songs, which are in a different register. How are you approaching these?
Johan: "I must say, I really do like those songs. They're great songs. Of course, he's got a higher pitch than I. I have to push myself a lot, but I think I'm comfortable with it anyway. I have to push a lot, that's for sure, to reach some of those notes. Sometimes I think I get a bit raspy, but that's okay in the metal business. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: Had things gone in a different direction, you likely would have been singing those songs in the first place. Do you ever think, "Oh, I would have sung this part differently"?
Johan: "Yeah. The very first time I did the Messiah songs, I did them my way. Then, after a couple of gigs, I realized that I had to follow some parts exactly as they were because the audience was singing them. The first time I did them, I sang them exactly how they suited me, but I realized I couldn't do it that way everywhere in the song. If I'm a bit longer in one tone or shorter on another, I have to do some of the choruses exactly as Messiah did them because of the audience. I don't have a problem with that. We have to do it together when there's a singalong in the chorus."
Blabbermouth: Do you have a favorite Messiah song to sing?
Johan: "I can't say anything, but I like them all. They're great songs. We want to have a good flow when we're putting the setlist together. Of course, we have to play the old classics. People want them. I don't have a problem with that because I like every song that I do. That's true. If I felt anything else about a song, we would talk about it and probably they would say, 'Okay, we'll put that one aside.' To me, it's very important to like the songs I'm singing. I'm a bad actor. [Laughs] I don't have a problem with that because I like the songs."
Blabbermouth: You hopped on stage as a guest with other CANDLEMASS singers before joining, but have you ever met Messiah?
Johan: "No. I've met everyone but Messiah. I've met Robert [Lowe] several times. I met Mats [Levén], I met Thomas Vikström. But, Messiah, I haven't met him yet. I'm sad about that. It would be great to meet him one day. Maybe I will. I don't know."
Blabbermouth: You will be playing "Epicus" in full at the Decibel Beer Fest in June. Does singing it front-to-back pose any unique challenges?
Johan: "It's not exactly a challenge. I've been pretty comfortable doing all the songs on 'Epicus', but some parts are very high, even for me. [Laughs] I have to push a lot, but lately, I always try to do them as they were. That's my ambition, but the older you get, you get a lower tone. But I'm ready to try every time. If I fail, then that's the way it is. I'm trying to find the very high notes, too. If I'm not, I have to do something else, but that's my ambition. I do them pretty much as they were."
Blabbermouth: What's the hardest? "Crystal Ball"?
Johan: "I think the hardest of all is 'Under The Oak'. The part coming after the solo when I have to push a lot. [Laughs] If I'm a bit cold, which, unfortunately, I am pretty often, I may have to take the notes down a bit. Not every single tone, but the highest. My ambition is the try every time."
Blabbermouth: Do you think your performance was so great on "Epicus" because you weren't a so-called "metal" singer?
Johan: "Well, I had a metal band at the time, but when I heard the songs Leif had written, I said, 'Wow. I never heard anything like this before!' I thought it sounded very interesting and I was ready to help the guys out and do my very best. I don't know why it has become so popular. I can't put my finger on it. I can say that my ambition when we did the recordings, I think the recordings took two nights or maybe three. It was a very quick recording. At that point, I remember I thought the songs were one chord throughout and I needed to put as much melody into the vocals as possible. That was one of my main ambitions at that point."
Blabbermouth: You never followed the riff as Ozzy did in BLACK SABBATH. You always had a melody.
Johan: "Absolutely. I love the distorted guitar. I'm totally amazed by heavy guitars, but I don't want to sing there. I sing between the riffs where there's a big space, then the riff comes. I'm not that much into following the cues with my singing. I want to find my own way if it's possible. I've been writing songs myself, not for CANDLEMASS, but all my life. I've been doing all kind of tunes, so many hundreds of thousands of times. I've been into all the chords for all my life. That helps me find ways and try out many different vocals on a song. But, I must say Leif is Mr. CANDLEMASS when it comes to songwriting. He knows how he wants it to sound and be arranged. We're having a good time in the studio. He asks me, 'Can you try this? Can you do it like that?' I try it and sing a couple of lines and do a twist somewhere, then it's, 'Oh! We got it.' He has the red line and, of course, we can move around it. But what is important is that we're having fun and a good time trying out all these different kinds of vocals."
Blabbermouth: Does this mean there's progress on the follow-up to "The Door To Doom"?
Johan: "Yeah! I'm pretty much done. There will be something new. That's not a secret. I don't know how much the other guys have talked about it. Everything is pretty much recorded so far. There's a guy mixing it and we get copies to listen to and give him our opinions about it."
Blabbermouth: Without giving too much away, what can people expect?
Johan: "I don't think they will be disappointed. That, I can say. There are a lot of great songs here. I've never heard songs exactly the way they are, but they're so beautiful and you have the heavy stuff. You get a lot from the record. I'm pretty sure a couple of the songs will rise to the top of CANDLEMASS song lists."