When Leif Edling founded doom pioneers Candlemass in the Swedish municipality of Upplands Väsby in late 1984, he had one mission. “We wanted to be the heaviest band in the world,” says the bassist. “We wanted to be heavier and more metal than anyone.”
Candlemass made good on that promise. Their grandiose, distinctly northern European sound was best encapsulated on Solitude, the magnificent opening track of their 1986 debut album, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. This half-speed symphony of sadness was the perfect marriage of heaviness and grandeur, an epic wail of desolation that still stands as a doom metal landmark nearly 40 years after its release. As Leif puts it: “Solitude is our Paranoid.”
The bassist had formed Candlemass from the ashes of his previous band, Nemesis, with drummer Matz Ekström. The pair spent all their spare krona at Stockholm record shop Heavy Sounds, picking up the latest albums from the likes of Venom, Motörhead and Iron Maiden. But it was underground bands such as Trouble, Saint Vitus, Manilla Road and Warlord that shaped Candlemass’s nascent sound more than anything. “Most Swedish bands at the time had a more commercial sound,” says Leif. “We got our sound and unique style pretty fast. No one sounded like us.”
That sound followed the proto-doom template laid down in the early 70s by Black Sabbath and their cult US cousins Pentagram. But where Candlemass’s transatlantic contemporaries Saint Vitus and Trouble made music for biker and dive bars, the Swedes’ music had a grandeur that evoked sweeping mountains and Scandinavian forests. “We wanted to make doom metal of epic proportions,” says Leif. “That’s why we called the album Epicus Doomicus Metallicus.”
Leif had already written the songs that would appear on the album when he came up with a quick, off-the-cuff riff. “I wrote it in a minute or two,” he recalls. “I played it to Matz, and he immediately said, ‘You have to write a full song based on that riff, and it has to go on the album.’”
It didn’t take long for Leif to put meat on the bones of the riff and turn it into a proper song. “I had to deliver it ASAP because we were about to make the album,” he says. “I didn’t spend much time on it. It was one of those songs that more or less writes itself. All of a sudden, there it was: ‘Bam! I give you Solitude!’”
Lyrically, Solitude found Leif dredging the bleakest depths of his soul. The opening lines (‘I’m sitting here alone in darkness/Waiting to be free’) are a portent of something terrible to come, while the song’s howled hook – ‘Please let me die in solitude!’ - suggests the whole thing is a study of mental anguish and suicidal ideation. Except it’s nothing of the sort.
“The lyrics came about when I was really hungover,” says Leif with a laugh. “I usually wrote lyrics on a Sunday because I had a free day, and I was often in a shitty shape after going to the local pub the night before. The lyrics were about feeling crap and kind of wanting to die because you felt so terrible. But you write something personal, and then it goes off in another direction.”
Candlemass were still a trio at that point, consisting of Matz Ekström, guitarist Mats Björkman and Leif himself. Initially, the latter pulled double duty as singer and bassist. “But my voice wasn’t great, and it’s also a bitch to sing and play bass at the same time,” he says. “In those early days, we were always on the hunt for a singer. I almost sang on Epicus…, but luckily we found Johan before I could do any damage.”
“Johan” was Johan Längqvist, a singer whose previous band, Jonah Quizz, had split up a few years earlier. Johan had a powerful, near-operatic voice that put most other metal singers in the shade in terms of range and tone.
He was an 11th-hour recruit - Matz Ekström had only persuaded him to appear on the album a few days before they were due to enter Stockholm’s Thunderload Studios in February 1986. The first time Leif met Johan was on the first day of recording. “It was insane,” says the bassist. “And then he came in and blew us away.”
Thunderload was located in an old bomb shelter below Stockholm’s Universitetet metro station. The conditions were less than conducive for making an album. “It was cold and damp and we had to wear long johns and gloves down there,” remembers Leif. “You could see your breath coming out of your mouth. It wasn’t easy for playing and recording. We couldn’t even tune our guitars. And we had to piss in a small, red bucket in a corner. But Ragne [Wahlquist, producer] was very patient with us. He taught us what to do and what not to do.”
One person who did know what to do was Johan Längqvist. “He nailed Solitude right away, in a take or maybe two,” says Leif. “He was like the God of Singing. We had goosebumps listening to him.”
Leif planned to open the album with another song, Demon’s Gate, but Matz was insistent it was the wrong choice. “He said, ‘It must be Solitude!’ He was absolutely right.”
Freezing temperatures and inhospitable studio environs aside, Candlemass had delivered a killer album. There was just one problem. Johan had agreed to appear on the record as a session singer but that was all. There was no chance he was going to tour in support of it.
This potentially ruinous situation proved to be a blessing in disguise. His replacement was Messiah Marcolin, a larger-than-life character with a paint-peeling voice and a shock of curly hair who would appear onstage in full monk’s robes performing his signature move, the ‘doom dance’ – a slo-mo stomp performed in time to Candlemass’s tectonic-plate riffs.
“We were this ultra-heavy band with a mad monk onstage,” says Leif. “Word spread pretty quickly.” Not quickly enough, though. Few people bought Epicus Doomicus Metallicus when it was released in June 1986 on Swedish indie label Black Dragon. “It bombed,” says Leif. “It didn’t sell much and we got dropped.”
But Candlemass weren’t about to quit. Dismal record sales aside, the band’s epic music – together with Messiah’s unique stage presence – was catching on, and they began building an audience. Solitude became the band’s calling card, in all its depressive glory.
“People started to talk about it,” says Leif. “At the time, it was about the lyrics or the weird note in the riff. Whenever we played it live, it always brought down the roof of every venue. People often say that Solitude is so slow, but if you listen to it, it has a beat that compels you to nod your head or stamp your foot or whatever. We did it on purpose. No song should be so slow that you can’t bang your head to it, and there’s something about Solitude that makes people go off and sing along to it. It has some kind of secret power.”
Set against hair metal’s party-hard hedonism and thrash’s raging drunkenness, the bleakness of the song’s lyrics was part of its appeal. Whether intended or not, Solitude could be read as a glorification of suicide. It’s something Leif pushes back against.
“I don’t think it’s that depressing actually,” says Leif. “Of course you can read just about anything into any song if you want to, but it’s not a pro-suicide song,” he insists. “It’s just about how bad you can feel when you drank too much the night before. Simple as that. And it’s not my thing to write a suicide anthem. I’m a much more positive person than that. Lots of fans over the years have told me that they love it and feel uplifted after listening to it. And you can really headbang to it too.”
Candlemass followed up Solitude and Epicus Doomicus Metallicus with a string of equally classic albums, including 1987’s Nightfall and 1988’s Ancient Dreams. Since then, there have been multiple splits, hiatuses and reunions, and countless line-up changes.
Leif Edling has been the only constant, though original vocalist Johan Längqvist returned in 2016 as a full-time member, singing on 2019’s The Door To Doom and 2022’s Sweet Evil Sun. But it’s the epic anthem inspired by a monster hangover almost 40 years ago that remains both Candlemass’s greatest five minutes and 38 seconds and one of the foundational doom metal songs.
“All of a sudden we are legends and feel fucking old at the same time! Ha ha ha!” says Leif. “People say it’s a classic and I feel good about that. It means you did something worth remembering. And I never get tired of Solitude. I’m sure it will be played at my funeral.”