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VERSUS: Born Too Late vs. Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
Welcome to another edition of Versus, the series where we look at two albums in metal history, and compare them to each other, and see which one was the better record.
In this edition, we are going to jump into the early stages of doom metal, some would say the creators of the genre itself. Both bands brought unique variations of doom metal with these releases. One continuing where the likes of Black Sabbath started to lay the groundwork for the genre. The other fully embracing the theatrical elements in the vocal delivery and making the sound more atmospheric. Both bands can be considered the originators of doom, but which one had the better release. Let’s get doom and gloomy in this battle I’m calling “The Battle for The Title of Doom”.
In this corner, we have Saint Vitus with their third album, 1986’s Born Too Late. The band’s first record with new vocalist Scott "Wino" Weinrich, this album would mark a change in the band’s direction. Taking the band into a slower and eviler sound, compared to the previous records which had a more hardcore sound to the band. Born Too Late is considered a classic doom metal record and an influential record in the doom metal genre as well as in the stoner and sludge metal genre as well. Let’s take a look and see what makes this doom metal record a competitor in this fight.
The album opens with the title track, which once the guitars kick in, immediately show the influence that the doom and stoner metal genre would embrace with its guitar tone and playing. Definitely giving off the feeling of Black Sabbath’s debut album, the guitars hang in the space with drums faint in the mix when Wino’s vocals kick in. Giving off that sorrowful and depressing tone in his voice. The track gives off a bluesy-fusion of metal at a dirge of a pace with two great guitar solos by Dave Chandler. A great opening track and sets the tone for the entire record.
Following up the track is a more midtempo, faster paced track than the album opener with “Clear Windowpane”. Wino’s vocals definitely show an Ozzy influence on the track with that driving stoner/sludgy guitar tone and riff throughout the song. Drums consistently pound and boom in the mix with the song. “Dying Inside” slows us back down, almost with a Sunn O))) style guitar playing before the reverbed-laden vocals come in, although the guitars ring louder with the addition of bass and features another great solo with the band’s rhythm section keeping the dark tempo going over the shreddy and wailing guitar solo of Chandler.
The next standout track is “H.A.A.G (Hell Ain’t A Game)”. Another mid-tempo paced track, guitars and bass have that fuzzy distortion sound to them and Wino’s vocals are more forward in the mix. His vocals really accentuate the doom feeling on the track. Featuring a classic bluesy/heavy metal tone to it, and a nice slow down, building into a slow build at the halfway mark is a nice touch. Chandler shines again with another great solo closing out the track. “The Lost Feeling” has great bass punching in the opening, and with vocals soaked in reverb, almost hiding the band’s playing and building ominous tension. The band playing a simple but heavy style, creates atmosphere and Wino’s melancholy vocals segueing into the guitar solo with bass popping throughout it. The album’s closer “The War Starter” continues the low and slow feeling, letting the notes hang in the space, creating that legendary doom atmosphere. Wino’s vocals shine so well on the track as the band brings this doom classic to a close.
In the opposite corner, we have Sweden doom legends Candlemass with their 1986 debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. With a sound different than their fellow heavy metal bands at the time, the vocals were almost operatic or theatrical, combined with slow and brooding guitar riffs, Candlemass’ take on heavy metal helped create a new version of doom metal that the band would fully embrace and continue to perform to this date. The album’s title, meaning “Epic Doom Metal” in dog latin, completely fits the band at the time of the release. Though at the time of release, the record did not sell well, but would go on to become a cult classic and a cornerstone in the genre. Let’s dive into this record and see what makes this record deserve its title.
Opening the album is the song “Solitude”. With a soft and ambient acoustic guitar opening and light keyboards, the theatrical/operatic style vocals of session vocalist Johan Längqvist showcases his vocal range. Which at some points reminds me of Warrel Dane of Nevermore and Matt Barlow of Iced Earth rolled into one. Then, the guitars kick in, and we get that iconic doom metal "low and slow" guitar playing with building drums behind it. The song continues that slowed down tempo and then gets even slower at the halfway mark, leading into a great guitar solo by Klas Bergwall. The song comes back around with the ending bringing it back to the opening acoustic guitars and vocal delivery, starting the record off with the classic Candlemass sound. The following track “Demon’s Gate” features a synth and voice modulation effect, classic of that “80’s evil sound” to it. Matz Ekström and his drumming increases in speed with nice double bass, which almost is the opposite of the "low and slow" trademark of doom metal, but he makes it work on the track. The bass thumps and bends at the halfway mark transitioning into the double bass, aligned with the epic vocals of Längqvist, which at some points almost turns into a power metal vocal delivery.
Another great track is “Crystal Ball”. A fast-pacing song, the vocals and the band’s performance bounce off each other really well. With great dynamics and letting the vocals stand out in the track. The song does lean more towards heavy metal than doom on the track. A nice bass solo section by Leif Edling, fusing the track into a heavier, chugging riff at the halfway mark. Double bass also drives the song as well, leading into a great epic ending to the song and a standout track on the album. “Black Stone Wielder” continues the fast-paced feeling and another song leaning more towards heavy metal than doom, but is still a banger of a track.
“Under The Oak” returns to the traditional doom sound of "low and slow" with a lower tuning and a slow headbanging riff. The vocals again shine on the track and continue the classic Candlemass sound the band would create in the doom genre. The album’s closer “A Sorceror’s Pledge” is a perfect marriage of heavy metal and doom metal, bringing the album to an epic and grandiose close on one of the most famous records in doom metal.
After both bands have played their last slow, chugging riff, who won this battle of bands being at the forefront of doom metal? The winner is Candlemass with Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. After listening to both records, both bands are influential in the doom metal genre. Candlemass delivers the epic, grandiose scale of doom metal, while Saint Vitus would continue the sludgier/stoner sound of the genre. After listening to both records, I would respin Epicus. Musically, I prefer Candlemass between the two records. With Born Too Late, Saint Vitus at some points were really good in the musicianship and performance, but I think I prefer Längqvist’s vocals over Wino’s vocals. Also, Epicus seems to try to do new things in doom with the unique operatic and theatrical vocals, along with the slower songs and pacing. Born is still a great record, but at some points, it has elements where it almost sounds like Sabbath B-sides or Wino trying to sound too much like Ozzy, which I think hurts the record. Both bands have both released influential records in heavy metal and both bands are worth doing a deep dive into their discographies if you are interested in checking out the origins of the doom metal genre.
Do you agree with my decision? Who do you think should have won this battle? Leave your comments in the comments section below and your suggestions who you think should step in the ring next. I’m Justin, your friendly neighborhood metalhead, for This Day in Metal and this has been Versus.