Bring in the Doom: An Avatarium/Candlemass Interview


Candlemass are the alpha and the omega of doom metal, and Leif Edling is the alpha and the omega of Candlemass. As the band’s chief songwriter and sole remaining original member, Edling has helped to move heavy metal forward for more than thirty years, and pumped out enough riffs to place him on the highest altars of the Iommic Temple. Whether he’s defining epic doom itself or realizing new dimensions of heaviness, his songwriting font has never once run dry.

While Candlemass will not be releasing any new recorded output after 2012’s fitting career capstone Psalms For The Dead, Edling is far from content with resting on his well-earned laurels. From augmenting Carl Westholm’s Jupiter Society to spearheading a new doom incarnation as Avatarium, Edling has kept himself busy and kept the rest of us headbanging just as hard as ever this past year. We were lucky enough to talk with the man recently about the Avatarium project, and we are honored to present this conversation here for your enjoyment.

We did everything by the book.

Metal Blast: Considering the success of Candlemass and the fact that it stands proud as THE doom metal band, what led you to start Avatarium?
Leif Edling:
My last year was very stressful, and I needed a break. the guitar became the vehicle for that. I sat on the sofa, playing guitar just trying to relax because I needed a few months to myself. I started to like some riffs, and those riffs became songs, and I needed to record those songs that I had. My friend Marcus (Evergrey, Royal Hunt)  here at the studio not too far away where I live now, he’s got a small studio so we sat there and demoed the songs that I had. So that’s how it started…me needing break haha.

MB – I agree that it does represent a difference from Candlemass; while it maintains the slow tempo, it’s also more psychedelic or maybe stoner in terms of sound, and the lyrics aren’t quite as dark as in Candlemass, they’re a little more poetic. This goes very well with Jennie-Ann Smith and her style of singing, you know, this jazzy vibe that she gives the songs. While it’s taking a break in the sense that you’re not working with the same band that you’ve worked with all these years, is it also therapeutic in that you touch on things that are not as dark as what you’re usually writing?
LE: Yeah, man. I enjoyed writing these songs very much because I could work in a little bit broader scope when compared to Candlemass. I could go “outside the box” a little bit more and write these relaxed verses and have some kind of bluesy feels in the vocals, like you said “jazzy”. It’s been kind of interesting for me to go outside the stuff that I normally do with Candlemass and work a little bit more with the energy and atmosphere. As a songwriter, to me that is really interesting because you can do something that you can’t usually do. For instance, normally I don’t like piano verses or verses like the one in “Moonhorse” where it’s almost folk.

MB – But you’re still unable to leave Candlemass fully on the side. You mentioned “Moonhorse” which has this whole “folky” and psychedelic element, but at the same time these folk elements are “interrupted” by the harder Candlemass doom sound. I thought this combination was great.
Thanks! This was the whole purpose of the Avatarium album, to create something that was a little more organic. Something that not only had hard energy, but also soft energy. We worked pretty hard with the arrangements and tried to make the songs flow in a way that gave in to more atmospheric, more bluesy elements, sometimes a little dark, sometimes a little light. It was great to work with the different energies and atmosphere’s and doom riffs [laughs] and even, sometimes, a little bit more progressive stuff. I’m just a fan of good music; working with someone like Jennie-Ann Smith was great, because she can really sing the blues. She’s a blues singer –

MB – Yeah, she was one of the reasons why I loved that song. The minute you hear her sing, you’re just go “woh…this is amazing”
LE:Yeah, and you know she’s a wonderful singer because she’s got that certain tone in her voice. It’s a little smoky and jazzy. It’s great to write music and have such a talented singer come in and make so many of your songs better, it’s fantastic.

MB: In an interview you mentioned her being able to reach sort of a “Dio-sound”; which reminds me of the fact that when you released the mini-LP for Moonhorse” you had a cover of “Warpigs”. When you’re tackling such a classic song by a band as famous as Black Sabbath, and you give it a completely new sound, was there a bit of fear of how people will compare it to the original, and also how people will react to the re-imagining?
Yeah, that’s the trickiness. It doesn’t matter how you do it; if you do it in the traditional way, people either complain and say “Yeah yeah, you can’t do it like Sabbath, you’re not as good and it’s boring”, and if you do an acoustic version people will say “Yeah…it’s cool, but I don’t get it. They should have done a traditional version”. You can’t please everybody. In the end you can only do it for yourself. When we were talking about it we said that there was no way we could really do “Warpigs”, since is such a classic song that you simply cannot touch the original, it can’t be done. The only thing we could do with it was to make it our own. We completely re-did it, and I love it. We’ve had a couple of complaints, but we’ve also had a bunch of people saying that it was a great cover and that we did the right thing.

MB: It just works. Some bands play it safe and do a cover and it’s basically the same exact song just with a different band behind it. You went a different way.
It’s Black Sabbath, man! How can you touch Black Sabbath? It’s not possible. Why try to do it?

MB: At the same time it would also be boring to do the same song but this time with a woman singing…it just wouldn’t work. It’s much better when a band at least takes the chance of re-working it in a respectful manner like you did. Look, for instance, at one of the best covers ever made, Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails. He completely transformed the song to the point where even Trent Reznor thought that he completely made it his own. In a way, Avatarium did that with “Warpigs”. You pay your respects to Black Sabbath, but at the same time, you go “This is our sound. We’re not trying to copy anybody”.
Yeah, you have to make it your own. How you do it doesn’t matter, but you have to do it for yourself. You have to put your heart and soul into it, and not just do a random, run of the mill cover version.

MB: The album features some great artwork, but it’s full of symbols, full of obscure figures. Is there a deeper meaning in the illustration? Or is this just a case where, you thought these images looked good?
–Well, Erik [Rovamperä, has done previous Candlemass covers] did the cover. I sent him some songs, and I told him to try and capture the soul of the songs, and I think he did a really good job with it. An Avatarium is a place where you worship demigods. It doesn’t matter who they are, it’s up to you really. It’s up to who you are, where you are and who you are worshipping. He looked into the songs and made his own imagery and meanings behind them. I think he did a great job capturing the poetic darkness and enigma that is Avatarium. When I saw the cover, I thought “This is spot-on”. I can’t imagine a different cover for the album.

MB – When Nuclear Blast released the lyric video for “Moonhorse”, the whole thing was based on the symbols of Avatarium, and that worked really well. That was a big part of what I enjoyed about the song; I don’t usually pay attention to lyric videos, because…I don’t care about lyric videos [laughs], but this one really captured my attention with the graphics. I have friends who are not even into metal, and even they were blown away because the sound worked really well with the type of imagery that was being put forward. So that was terrific.
Yeah, Erik did some very interesting and talented things. He’s slowly getting a name for himself in the art world, so I’m very happy for him. To be able to capture the lyrics and the soul of the band is not easy, you have to have a great feel for what you do to be able to do something like that. I’m very happy that he got that job [laughs].

MB – We mentioned Marcus a little bit before; he said in an interview “To make an album with a very organic sound, and no fixing and tricks with computers, just a great emotional album”. In light of this – what can you tell me about the recording, mixing, and production of Avatarium? Did you try to get a more raw sound, do something different from what you would normally do in the studio?
LE: Hmmm…no….I think we tried to do what I always try to do in studio situation. To record it properly, in proper studio. We took the drums and recorded them in a drums studio…

LE:Yeah, but you know most of the time it’s not entirely analog. You’re recording it into a computer in the end anyway, you don’t record onto two inch tape or anything like that. Even though you’re in a proper studio with great senheisser microphones and blah blah blah, you record into a computer anyway. You get the best of both worlds; you have the analog technology, and the dullness of the digital technology. You can record in old-school, and work on it in new-school [laughs]. This is how we did it with the drums, then went to a proper studio to record the guitars so we can really, really play it loud and use the Marshalls and whatever other cabinets that you have. So we tried really hard to no cut any corners. We did everything by the book.

MB: It paid off. It was great.
LE: Yeah; you can hear it on the album, it’s pretty organic. It was recorded in a proper studio, and guided by people who knew what they were doing.

MB: Since we talked about “Warpigs”, how did you feel about Thirteen? And, perhaps more importantly, about the whole sad situation with Bill Ward?
Oh, yeah. That was pretty unsual and sad. I must say, I understand Bill Ward, but I also understand Black Sabbath. I heard that Bill Ward came to the studio prepared to play drums, and he could hardly play them. So I understand what Black Sabbath did. Yeah it’s sad, but if you’re not in any condition to play the drums you can’t expect to play them I guess.

MB: You have these two versions. Bill says that there was a whole problem with Sharon and the contractual terms, while Ozzy and Sharon maintain that it has to do with his ability to play. In the end, regardless of the actual cause, it’s very sad to see Bill Ward just leave Black Sabbath.
LE:It really is sad, and I got tickets to the show in Stockholm next week, and I’ll miss Bill. But, you know, the album is actually better than I expected. On the other hand…it could still have been better [laughs]. It gets three stars from me, because I think it’s OK, but could have been better. It sounds very American and very commercial. Ozzy is all over the album, it must be some sort of management decision. He’s louder on the mix than anyone else, and he’s everywhere – he never shuts up now! [laughs]

MB: That’s fucking Sharon, man. That’s Sharon Osbourne.
LE: Yeah when I listened to the record I missed Tony Iommi; I wanted to hear some more riffs, some more solos from Tony. Half the time when I expect a solo, from out of nowhere there’s a bridge and Ozzy sings “God is dead” about a thousand times. So, I don’t know. I’m really happy that they made the album, they’ve done a lot of albums. I’m happy that the album is a success and that they’re on a world tour. I shouldn’t really complain [laughs]. I love Black Sabbath, it might be too much for me to say it should have been like their old stuff. That was a long time ago. I’m still glad that they’re still touring and still give you a great concert experience

MB: Do you mind if I ask you, a couple of things about Candlemass?
LE: Yeah sure, shoot man.

MB: For metal bands…music videos are complex, to say the least. If you look at Immortal, their video for “Call of the Winter Moon” has become sort of an inside joke in metal. Same thing with some Manowar videos. Keeping in mind that I really love “Nightfall”, how do you feel when you watch the video for “Bewitched” now?
I have a blast, man. I enjoy it very much, because it’s not super serious. I’m pretty sure it would have been even worse if it was trying to be a serious video. This was 1987, MTV was big and there was a lot of joke videos on MTV at the time. Accept made that “Balls to the Wall” video as a joke, you know? I think we wanted to have fun with it. I think it’s good that people can watch the “Bewitched’ video and remember it. I think it’s an achievement.

MB: I remember Dio said that, in a way, MTV was responsible for the beginning of “bad” metal. He was talking about stuff like Poison, because suddenly bands had the need to start making videos. They had to start appealing in this visual medium that didn’t come naturally to them. While bands like Twisted Sister, just threw everything out the window. Those were the bands that got the biggest benefit out of music videos.
To me, it didn’t do any favors. I totally agree with what Dio said, it truly is “video killed the radio star”. If you heard the song on a radio, you didn’t care about anything other than if you liked it or not. You don’t know how the people are dressed, or what they look like.

MB: The problem is that, whatever you do, you’ll always be judged (in the case of a video) by how you look when you’re performing. That put’s an unnecessary burden on metal bands, who were not so much about that aspect. It benefits pop artists, who are based almost exclusively on how they look. Pop artists thrive because of the visual medium, while metal is hurt by it.
LE: Yeah, it was shame during the MTV phase that a lot of your success became based on your videos, and how big they were and the people behind them, as opposed to the music. I guess a lot of good bands died or couldn’t compete, and it got tough. What can you do? You just have to adapt to the kind of environment that’s around you. Like now, how are you doing to present your music? Now you have youtube, you have facebook, you have people in front of the computer. It’s great to be a young band today, and be able to record stuff and launch it on your own directly to the people. I think it’s a good time right now to be a young band, because it’s easy to get your music out there.

MB: Of course, it poses the problem that since there’s so much music that is accessible and out there, it’s hard to stand out. In this sea of music, it’s hard to say “listen to us” instead of all the other bands playing doom metal, or power metal.
LE: Also, at the same time I think that if you really are a good band, you will be successful. I don’t think a really good band will drown in this sea of bands, if you’re a good band people will always discover you. There are so many music fans out there hungry for new, fresh music, you’ll eventually be discovered.

MB: I’m afraid we’re out of time, I really appreciate that you took the time out for an interview today.
Not a problem, it was a pleasure talking to you!

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10 years ago

Leif is the man.