By David E. Gehlke
A Tony Iommi guest spot does not an album make, but it sure helps when getting some long-overdue recognition from the Recording Academy. Legendary Swedish doom metal pioneers CANDLEMASS earned a Grammy nomination for "Astorolus — The Great Octopus", a cut from their 2019 "The Door To Doom" studio album that featured the aforementioned BLACK SABBATH riff maestro. While the award that year went to TOOL, it helped continue the goodwill wave from vocalist Johan Längquist's full induction into the band on "The Door To Doom" after initially recording the seminal "Epicus Doomicus Metalicus" in 1986 as a session member.
CANDLEMASS has since ridden Längquist's presence and the positive reception for "The Door To Doom" into a new studio album, "Sweet Evil Sun". As longtime rhythm guitarist Mats "Mappe" Björkman tells BLABBERMOUTH.NET, the LP may not have Iommi for extra street cred, but it's every bit as good as its predecessor — if not better. A tall order indeed for a band responsible for some of doom metal's most epic and enduring post-SABBATH moments. However, first on the agenda was Björkman's recent surprise guest appearance alongside "Nightfall"-era vocalist Messiah Marcolin at a Stockholm ANVIL show that caused a stir.
Blabbermouth: You recently hopped onstage with Messiah and ANVIL in Stockholm. What was it like? How did it come together?
Mappe: "It was fantastic. People think we are cat and dog, but we are not. We don't work together in CANDLEMASS anymore, but we still go out sometimes to have a beer. Me, Messiah and Leif [Edling, bass], we are good friends. And CANDLEMASS is good friends with ANVIL. I have tons of respect for them. I never do guest performances. The thing was that [frontman] Lips [Kudlow] texted the morning when they came to Stockholm and asked me if I could do a guest performance with them and Messiah. I was like, 'Yeah! But I haven't rehearsed the song ['Metal On Metal'].' I knew the song. It's a very easy song to play. I said, 'If you want it, I'll take it.' I texted Messiah and said, 'You know we are invited to do this with ANVIL? Should we do it?' He said, 'Yeah, of course!' I said, 'If you do it, I'll do it.
"We understood there will be lots of things on Blabbermouth. [Laughs] It's going to be like, 'What the fuck is going on?' That was something we thought would be very fun. That was the reason we did it to [show] that we are friends and we can do things together, even if we don't do CANDLEMASS together. I think it was a good statement."
Blabbermouth: Does this open the door for future guest spots from Messiah?
Mappe: "Johan is the proper singer now. The circle is closed, that's for sure. That's where it is — no doubt about that. The circle is closed. That's the thing I wanted for many, many years. He's going to be the proper singer for CANDLEMASS until we close CANDLEMASS. But, to answer your question, if we would have an anniversary with 'Nightfall' and he [Marcolin] could be doing that album, that's an open door. Of course, it is. It's the same with him. I understand Messiah — he doesn't want to be doing one song with CANDLEMASS. He's said the same thing to me: 'Johan is the proper singer now. I'm not going back to CANDLEMASS to be the singer.' It would have to be an event, an anniversary for an album. That door is open. It's not closed, no way. But Johan is still the proper singer of CANDLEMASS, so no one is going to think we're going to take Johan out of the band for Messiah. Johan knows it. He's said the same thing. We're still family. I wouldn't have anything against seeing Messiah do 'Nightfall'."
Blabbermouth: You have been tasked with playing Leif's riffs since day one. Even up until now with "Sweet Evil Sun", what's the process been like from when he gives you something to when it's recorded?
Mappe: "It's been the same for 37 years. I've been working with him for so long. Leif is not a dictator where it's like, 'You're going to play this.' He's always doing the songs; he's the songwriter. Nobody else is going to do songs in CANDLEMASS. It's been that way for ages. I'm looking forward to when he comes up with riffs and asks me, 'Can you do something with this?' Or, 'Do you like this?' It's always a fantastic moment when he comes up with the riffs. I'm like a little child: 'Oh, what kind of riffs does he have?' That's the way we've been working for so many years. I do not feel that I have to write the riffs or anything. He's doing the riffs and I know they'll be good and I can do them my way. I've done it for so many years. We're working together when someone goes, 'No, can you play it like this instead?' We do it together. The same with Lars's [Johansson, lead guitar] solos. He'll do a solo and we'll ask, 'Can you do a solo like this?' Same with Johan's vocals. We work together with Leif, but he's the mainman and that's how it will be as long as we keep going. That's CANDLEMASS. He's built it. He's the guy that started the band and nobody is like, 'I'm coming up with this and it's much better.' We can have ideas. The same with Johan. Leif says, 'That's really good! Do that instead.' It's not that he's coming up with riffs and saying, 'You're going to play it exactly like this.' That's not the way it works."
Blabbermouth: "The Door To Doom" received a Grammy nomination, not to mention it marked Johan's return and included a guest spot from Tony Iommi. Did you top it? Was that in your heads when making "Sweet Evil Sun"?
Mappe: "Yeah, I think, but you always say that with a new album. I say yes because Johan was always just a hired gun in CANDLEMASS. He was a hired gun on 'Epicus'. He finally got the chance to work with us. Of course, we thought, 'How can we make this happen when we got a Grammy nomination and Tony Iommi and so many things happened with 'The Door To Doom'?' That album is fantastic. A Grammy nomination in America is the biggest thing you can do for a Swedish band. Only CANDLEMASS and GHOST ever [received] it from Sweden. You have tons of other bands who could do it but didn't or haven't made it. Of course, that was the most significant promotion we got. Then we returned to Sweden and won the Swedish Grammis award between OPETH, HAMMERFALL and all the Swedish bands we know.
"With the new album, we could only do what we thought was good for us. We wanted to do a new album. Napalm [Records] wanted it, we wanted it and the fans wanted it. We took 'The Door To Doom' to another level with the songs. But then, we don't have Tony Iommi on the album. But it's CANDLEMASS we're talking about — not what kind of guests are on the album. Tony Iommi was a big thing, but it's a new year and a new album. We made it as good as we can."
Blabbermouth: The guitar tone has always figured prominently in CANDLEMASS. Here, it's more dominant than ever.
Mappe: "We worked on a different guitar sound on this one. We worked very hard on it. We didn't do ten rhythm guitars on every song. We're playing as SABBATH did; we did it very easy, but with a really good sound. That was the difference from what we've done before. I think it's CANDLEMASS 2022. I told another guy, 'You don't have to like the album. Everybody has their way to like music. But if you don't like this album, then you don't like CANDLEMASS.' There are lots of bands I don't like, but millions of other people like those bands. It's not my cup of tea. If you don't like this album, you don't like CANDLEMASS. It's a CANDLEMASS album we stand behind very much for sure."
Blabbermouth: Leif reactivated CANDLEMASS in the late 1990s without you, Lars and Jan [Lindh, drums]. Granted, he was under record company pressure to use the name, but how did you feel being on the sidelines for those records?
Mappe: "When we parted company in 1993 after 'Chapter VI' with Thomas Vikström, Leif then did ABSTRAKT ALGEBRA with Mats Levén. That was his side project from the beginning. I sold my guitars; I didn't want to play anymore. I started working on other things. I wasn't interested in music anymore. He did those albums as CANDLEMASS, but I didn't care. I was like, 'Go for it. It's okay.' Then, Messiah and I were called in 2001 to do a guest performance with a CANDLEMASS cover band in Gothenburg. They were called ANCIENT DREAMS. Messiah and I did it. Then, things started. The albums were remastered on CD with extra songs. Then, we were asked to do Sweden Rock Festival. It was supposed to be just two festivals. We said, 'Yeah!' Then we had a meeting and said, 'This is our chance to come back.' I had to rebuy a guitar and start rehearsing. Then, it was like, 'We should do this!' It was supposed to be one or two festivals, but now it's fucking 2022 and we're still going. [Laughs] We've done more albums, shows and put in more effort and input for CANDLEMASS than when we were a proper band in the '80s and '90s. It's strange but fantastic."
Blabbermouth: You've had a lot of singer changes along the way, though. Has there been a particular one more difficult than the rest?
Mappe: "It was difficult with all the singers. The only guy we didn't have difficulty with was Johan. He's the guy. It's strange to say that, but he's the guy who put CANDLEMASS together. He has been around. We've always been friends. He did all the anniversary gigs with us. We invited him to do 'Epicus' songs for the 20th and 25th anniversaries. The other singers were more complicated when we parted company for different reasons. But, I think all the singers have done their thing for CANDLEMASS, but then it comes to working with somebody, which can be hard in different ways. I won't go into details, but I love all the guys who have sung with us. But when it comes to working with someone, Johan, the circle is closed with him. If Johan says to me, 'I don't want to be in CANDLEMASS anymore,' that's another thing. We will never say to him, 'You can't be in CANDLEMASS anymore.' That's not going to happen.
"When we parted company with Messiah in 2006, I suggested taking Johan back. It wasn't the right time for him. He has a family with a ton of grandchildren. He has the biggest family ever. He wasn't in the right position at the time. Therefore, Robert [Lowe] did a great job on the albums, but we had some problems with him live. He's still a good friend, though. Then we had Mats, who is a great singer and guy. He helped CANDLEMASS through everything, but it was still Johan I wanted back. That was what I wanted the whole time. Then came 'The Door To Doom'. The album was recorded with Mats and everything was finished. It was supposed to be released and we had some things with Mats and it was nothing against him as a person. He's a great guy, but the opportunity came to take Johan back and there was no discussion. We had to re-record the vocals on the album and it moved the release to February instead of November. That was the best thing CANDLEMASS ever did because of the result, the Grammy nomination, the Swedish Grammis and the new album. That was the right time for both Johan and CANDLEMASS."
Blabbermouth: Lastly, what is the heaviest CANDLEMASS song of all time? "Mirror Mirror"? "Demon's Gate"? "Crystal Ball"? There are so many good choices.
Mappe: "'Demon's Gate' is very heavy, but 'Solitude' is something that goes into my heart. That's a really heavy riff. When we did 'Epicus', Leif called me and said, 'We don't have enough songs for the album.' It was a low-budget album; we didn't have the money. But we made it from our hearts as SABBATH did with their first album. Leif said, 'We must have six more minutes to make the album full.' I said, 'Shit!' Leif said, 'I have a very easy riff and we'll rehearse it.' That was 'Solitude'. We said, 'We'll do it as a filler for the album to have six more minutes.' That's the only song we could never take out of our setlist."