Mats Levén is in possession of one of the most powerful voices in Scandinavian metal, not to mention one of the most in-demand. The 51-year-old has become the go-to guy whenever a band is in need of a potent singer to bring their music alive. But after a stint in Therion in the late ‘00s, he has scored his highest-profile gig yet by becoming the new vocalist in Candlemass, first as a session member in 2012 to replace former singer Robert Lowe before being confirmed as their full time frontman last year. After the band’s post-reunion fall-out with their fiery ex-vocalist Messiah Marcolin and the difficulties presented by working with a replacement that lived on the other side of the Atlantic, this softly spoken and good-looking family guy seems to have pacified the Swedes to the extent they’ve changed their minds about retiring form recording new music. Besides an Entombed cover in 2013 for the Swedish magazine Close-Up, the new EP Death Thy Lover is their first proper release with Levén on the mic, so it’s about time we shed a light on the man who might have just saved doom’s most beloved veterans…
You formed Krux with bassist Leif Edling in 2001 and eventually joined him in Candlemass. As both share a similar heavy/doom style, weren’t you afraid they would overlap each other?
“I didn’t want my involvement with Candlemass to mess up Krux and I didn’t feel like coming through as singer number six or seven with Candlemass straight up. To be honest, I wasn’t sure at first this was the right thing to do. I’ve been friends with Leif since the mid-90s when we did Abstrakt Algebra together and I’ve been in the background ever since. From 2003, I started helping him out, doing demos at my place and recording vocal tracks just to test out some ideas. Besides, I’ve always been a huge Messiah fan, so initially my first reaction to the guys was like, ‘You’ve got to sort things out with him, come on, he is the Candlemass singer isn’t he?’. So that’s why for two years in between 2012 and 2014 I was presented just as their session singer, just so we could give ourselves some time, feel the vibe and see if it’d work. But then we started talking about what we would do for the 30th anniversary, the offers we had already received and the EP we wanted to record. I broke the ice by saying that since we had so many things lined up, if it was okay with everybody, we didn’t need to beat around the bush any more, we could say I’m in for good.”
When you joined them, Candlemass had just announced that they would stop releasing albums and focus on their back catalogue. Was it frustrating to come to a band knowing you would never have the chance to record with them?
“A bit yes, but since I was a close friend, I knew that when Leif said that, it was because they had such a hard time completing their last album [2012’s Psalms For The Dead] with Robert Lowe that he didn’t feel like he had the kind of strength it required to go through that kind of process ever again. They knew they had to go their separate ways with him and I could see there was a sense of ‘no, not again’ there. After going through so many different frontmen in their career, they were just… tired you know? And when they officially said he was out and that they wouldn’t do any new music, they had only three shows booked including one in Stockholm for the album’s release party, so they asked me – I live in Stockholm, and I helped them demoing the new songs so I knew them already, so it was logical. But we had such a great response with those gigs that we started getting more and more requests and things escalated from there. We got very good reviews – which wasn’t always the case with Robert – and the vibe within the band started to change, like this is actually fun again.”
Apart from your former band Abstrakt Algebra, little is known about your early career…
“I’m originally from Gothenburg, and the first band I recorded an album with was called Swedish Erotica. It was more like glam and we were signed on Virgin. They were friends of mine, and originally I was meant to just help them out on backing vocals. But once we were in the studio, they decided to sack their singer and offered me his position on the spot. I was 24 years old and had a steady job working for this big Swedish phone company, Ericsson, but give it all up to live my rock’n’roll dream. Then in 1990, some friends of mine who had a band called Treat also kicked out their singer and asked me to join. They were more into that classic hard-rock vibe, in between Black Sabbath and Deep Purple with Hammond organ, and that was more my thing so I said yes and moved to Stockholm. Sadly, Treat disbanded in ‘93 and for a while, I just did stuff here and there, including Abstrakt Algebra and an album with AB/CD, an AC/DC type of band but with original material. After those two bands, I never seemed to be able to be part of a full-time band that tours. In the meantime, I did albums with At Vance, Fatal Force or Therion, but as a hired gun. And then I got my big break thanks to Yngwie Malmsteen, whom I did a record with [Facing The Animal] and toured the world for the first time in 1997. What made this experience even more special is that Cozy Powell did the drums on the record: it was a dream come true as I was a massive Rainbow fan. I would have done anything to have the chance to do Stargazer or Gates Of Babylon with him. But sadly he said no to the tour and then we learnt about his sudden death when we were in Japan, which hit everybody pretty hard. Still, I will forever cherish all those moments we spent in the studio, in the hotel or by the pool there just chatting. He was a true gentleman. But it’s really only with Krux and now Candlemass that I really feel like a proper band member.”
Candlemass’ new EP Death Thy Lover is out now.