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Caladan Brood, the mysterious epic black metal hailing from Salt Lake City (of all fucking places, right?!) has seemingly made some heavy waves in the underground metal world. The artwork of the album is instantly recognizable and captures the imagination, one of the primary reasons I obtained the album to begin with, in fact. The music is very much in tune with the artwork and presentation of the mysterious duo, called "Shield Anvil" and "Mortal Sword". The marching rhythm section and gliding melodies very effectively create the imagery of misty forests, craggy mountain peaks, and shambling warriors marching to their fate.
It's been said many times that this group is very much paying homage to Summoning (think 'Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame' and you've got the right idea). The use of keyboards and the style in which they're used also harks to the aforementioned album, with repetitive melodies which overlay upon building, swelling rhythms. The production is also absolutely reminiscent; the airy, open sound wherein all instruments are clearly heard, but still relatively cheap sounding. I found the production and style of 'Echoes of Battle' to be just the right combination of homage/worship and new, original elements.
You can definitely tell these guys are talented songwriters, but the problem I had with this album is primarily boredom. In general the song lengths are far too long, with too little variation in tempo. There are a number of times when a dash of variation, with dynamic changes or heartfelt guitar solos come in. These moments are far and few between, however.
Lengthy songs are not something I dislike on principle, the problem I had with this album is the songs simply don't have enough to offer to justify the long track lengths. They're long, hypnotizing, sometimes captivating, but in the end usually quite boring. "Wild Autumn Wind" and "Book of the Fallen" throw in some neat alterations to the otherwise predictable songs, but in context of the whole album it's not enough.
'Echoes of Battle' doesn't lend itself very well to high listening retention. The stand-out tracks for me are the final two, "A Voice Born of Stone and Dust", having a better balance of ambiance and aggression, and "Book of the Fallen", where the clean vocals are truly showcased to their best. I think Shield Anvil and Mortal Sword have likely accomplished their goal, in creating a unique work of art paying homage in every aspect to the golden age of atmospheric, epic black metal. I just feel that besides a handful of truly moving, striking moments, the album was overall not very engaging. So perhaps for what it set out to accomplish, it may be a resonating success. But for me as a listener, it fell short of expectation.
Caladan Brood may never be able to be mentioned without genre contemporaries Summoning coming up as well. In a genre in which one band has reigned for so long, any new band is immediately tagged as clones of the original. While the similarities between Caladan Brood and Summoning are obvious, Caladan Brood are not simply trying to copy the already successful formula. Instead, these two musicians from Salt Lake City take the basic framework of Summoning’s sound and improve upon it in every way possible. Echoes of Battle shows that Caladan Brood is ready to carry the torch lit by Summoning nearly twenty years ago.
The first thing to note is that Caladan Brood do not base their lyrics off J.R.R. Tolkien’s texts, but instead opt to use Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen fantasy series. In a genre where almost every band uses Tolkien as lyrical inspiration, it is a breath of fresh air to see a band use other sources. In addition, the lyrics are very well written, never coming off as ridiculously cheesy or amateurish, a trap that some bands in the genre fall into. While the lyrics are solid, they are nothing compared to the musical scope found within Echoes of Battle.
As mentioned earlier, Caladan Brood follow the basic song structure that Summoning often use. Layers of keyboards often take the lead with buzzing guitars and programmed drums fleshing out the sound. However, everything about Echoes of Battle seems to have been kicked up a notch. The keyboard lines are much catchier and far more epic. The drums often switch from bombastic tom patterns to faster standard drum beats, a technique Summoning mostly abandoned after their early albums. In all, the instrumental performances seem to have more conviction and more purpose than other bands in the genre. Every keyboard line and bridge section is used expertly to create a truly epic atmosphere. For example, about a third of the way into “To Walk the Ashes of Dead Empires” a monstrous horn section comes in and is built upon with drums and extra layers of keyboards. Caladan Brood have a knack for building upon basic keyboard lines until the listener is immersed in an array of instruments working together to create a beautiful soundscape.
While listening to Summoning songs, repeated sections seemed to drag on too long at times, causing the whole song to feel like a one-trick pony. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy listening to Summoning as much as the next person, but I felt variation may have been welcomed. Caladan Brood have an excellent sense of when to move on to new ideas within a song, and with such great songwriting, the next segment of music is always just as majestic as the previous one. A variety of keyboard sounds are used throughout, evoking different imagery as the mood of the song changes and the story is told. In addition, Caladan Brood experiment with something Summoning don’t dare touch: guitar solos. Both “Wild Autumn Wind” and “A Voice Born of Stone and Dust” feature technical, yet melodic solos. This adds an extra dimension to the album and is not at all overused.
One final aspect of this album that surpasses Summoning releases is the choir sections. Summoning used choirs very well on occasion, such as in “Land of the Dead”, but at other times they seemed out of place or off key. Every time a choir section is used in Echoes of Battle, it fits very well and sounds pitch perfect. These choirs were created by layering several tracks of vocals over one another, and the outcome sounds amazing. The choir sections bookending the final track, “Book of the Fallen” are highlights of the album, never ceasing to impress me.
Echoes of Battle is a truly epic album in scope and execution and any fan of the genre will surely find much to love in its 71 minute run time. After listening through Echoes of Battle countless times, I am still in awe at the grandiose nature of this album every time I revisit it. Many people may write this off as Summoning worship, but it really is much more than that. Caladan Brood have crafted a gem of an album and have a very promising future ahead kick-started by this classic debut album. While Summoning may always be hailed as kings of the epic black metal genre, Caladan Brood have made a very strong case that the student has outclassed the teacher.
Canadian fantasy fiction novelist Steven Erikson once wrote, in a review to the Cambridge Companion To Fantasy Literature that his “influences in terms of fiction are post-Tolkien”, this in a response to a claim in the book by its editor Prof. Edward James that “most subsequent writers of fantasy are either imitating him (Tolkien) or else desperately trying to escape his influence.” What this has to do with American Metal fantasists Caladan Brood is that Erikson is the author of the Malazan Book Of The Fallen series on which this album's lyrics are closely based, and because James' assertion and Erikson's rebuttal raise an interesting question for this style of Metal- if we replace J.R.R. Tolkein in this equation with Summoning is it fair to say that their shadow is cast so long over the sub-genre that all subsequent bands can do is imitate or reject? Certainly Summoning are the band that this new brood have been compared to most heavily over the near year this has been released, and even the simple fact that our American subjects here are a 2-piece much like Summoning may make such an analysis to psychologically pleasing to ignore. But simply slapping a “for fans of Summoning” sticker on this album would be lazy and diminishing- Caladan Brood seem to be drawing from more than just that one genre-defining source.
For starters, right from the opening track “City Of Azure Fire” the harsher elements in the guitars and vocals here are much darker than Summoning typically are, particularly calling to mind Graveland and Nokturnal Mortum, though also frequently coarser and more sickly sounding in the vocal tone than even either of those two are. Nokturnal Mortum also provide some influence for the piano/keyboard section on this track too, and their brethren in Temnozor are audible in some of the riffing in the title track, where Moonsorrow and Falkenbach make themselves known also.
“Wild Autumn Wind” takes it out of the Epic/Folk/Black sphere altogether with a vibe very like gothic and melodic Death/Doom acts like October Tide, Ghost Brigade and Insomnium, not to mention a clean vocal delivery and tone similar to that of Orphaned Land's Kobi Fahri, and the very catchy first half of “A Voice Born Of Stone And Dust” has some of the imperiousness of cheesy old Symphonic Black Metal like Bal-Sagoth and Carach Angren (and an even cheesier 80's Stadium Rock solo to boot!) that further helps this album defy being lazily pigoenholed. Of course Summoning are still a key influence- there are two cover versions of them as bonus tracks on the LP version of this album after all; but there are important differences to separate them from their Austrian tutors too.
First and foremost, comparing this to Summoning in terms of songwriting complexity is like comparing Orthanc to a hobbit hole (putting it in terms fantasy nerds will understand.) Compared to the laziness of the more veteran of the 2 bands when it comes to repetition, riff construction and general songwriting these young upstarts are out of sight. The songs are longer (the title track is the shortest in spite of being a hefty 9 minutes 21 seconds!), the vocal lines are more inventive (calling to mind Forefather at times), the composition much more complex and the album itself weighs in at over twice the duration of Summoning's most recent cut, and at least 3 times as many good musical ideas. Rather than being overshadowed by the subgenre's progenitors here it is the dashing errants putting the venerated heroes in the shade.
Another of Summoning's own games that Caladan Brood beat them at is in the clean vocal department- not only in terms of diversity (the aforementioned Orphaned Land chanting similarities) but also in verve, energy and the ability to be rousing. Closing track “Book Of The Fallen” leads the charge here and becomes the album's undisputed anthem carrying not only one, but two excellent choral parts, the first of which is cleverly repeated as a refrain during its mighty 15 minute march. The trick is never repeated earlier in the album though and several of these lengthy tracks suffer from having no unifying motif to string independently strong sections together. Likewise, for an album drawn so heavily on a literary source there doesn't seem to be an overarching narrative between these 6 songs, a disappointment as this would have made an awesome concept album. When Caladan Brood strike deepest they strike true, like the last 4 minutes of “Echoes Of Battle” where a Falkenbach/Moonsorrow like soaring clean vocal passage followed up by epic Bathory soloing and some killer harsh vocal lines like something caught between later Immortal and Thyrfing that play off the returning clean vocals. If these guys could've made a 71 minute album completely of this quality then there is no doubt this would be an instant classic. As it is though with having little snippets of true gems cast about here and there this may take several listens for you to really fall in love with.
For all its victories over Summoning in terms of songcraft perhaps this album's closest similarity to them might be through that video game-like drum sound and overused beats from song to song, but the biggest reason I can't give this album top marks is to do with authenticity. Going back to the earlier analogy between Tolkein and Stevenson, an important factor to consider is real world influences on their universes. As Tolkein was a scholar of Old English epic poetry such as “Beowulf” and Anglo-Saxon/German/Norse academia generally it is no one that tropes of those can be seen reflected in Lord Of The Rings, and though I have not read the Malazan saga I think I can safely assume that knowledge of real world empires and civilization gleaned from his background in anthropology and archaeology has influenced Erikson's literary works too. By extension these same ideas might have filtered through to lyrical aspect Summoning's Tolkein Metal or Caladan Brood's Erikson Metal. But unlike Folk/Pagan Metal acts whose non-Metal music elements are based in concrete history and tradition, the non-Metal musical elements of are from pure fantasy, entirely invented sources. All throughout this album there is “folk” sections seemingly based on some false notion of medievalism.
For the most part Caladan Brood completely ape Summoning for these passages (although on opening track they go for a more retro kind of medieval faux in that it sounds like something old school Hollywood blockbusters starring Errol Flynn), which given than it is Summoning fans they are trying to appeal to they can hardly be blamed for. But compared to European Metal bands who replicate their history, mythology, culture and traditional music in their songs where exactly do these cinematic sweeps of sampled lyre strings and horns that paint images of snowy-topped mountains fit into the real life background or experience of these 2 fantasy nuts from barren Salt Lake City, Utah? If like me you are a stickler for authenticity you may find this a tough roadblock to get over with this album. If however all you are looking for is a bit of pure escapism this could well be your thing. [7/10]
From WAR ON ALL FRONTS A.D. 2013 zine- www.facebook.com/waronallfronts
Before going into any discourse, it would be best to say that the framework, style and theme of this duo is based on the influence of Austrian black metal/neoclassical outfit Summoning, and the influence is patently ‘on the sleeve’.
Similar to a band like Morrigan, whose work on ‘Celts’ takes cues from various eras of the Bathory canon, Caladan Brood’s take on the Summoning template strives for a similar chronological effect, though the combination mostly resembles a cross between the lush orchestration and brooding pace of Oath Bound the linear guitar riffs that can be heard on ‘Dol Guldur’ and the melodic infectiousness hinted at in ‘Stronghold’.
Occasionally, climatic songs reach crescendo with the use of melodic solos that are influenced by Quorthorn’s style of playing on the Viking-era Bathory work. This is especially prominent on ‘Wild Autumn Wind’, which after repeat listens clearly becomes the standout song on the opus. The structural template, the use of a piano-like synth, balladic pace and backing vocals containing a conspicuous similarity to Summonings ‘Land Of The Dead’, with a solo that resembles Gary Moore playing a guest performance on ‘One Rode To Asa Bay’.
There are some faults on here, in spite of ‘Echoes Of Battle’ being a quite brave and ambitious effort. An immediate flaw comes in the immediate comparison to a band that many have not attempted to base their style and sound upon, Summoning. Being an act whose style is conceptually and musically distinct, it’s genuinely hard to feel that any band influenced by them could improve on what they’ve already done. So whilst it’s a sincere work at times, and certainly compliments the romanticist ideal within black metal, it still falls short of the pinnacle.
On a less abstract, more technical scale, there are some throwaways which damage the aesthetic at times. The clean vocals can often be offputting. Their production and treatment is often quite sterile, overly compressed and would have benefited more if they were less direct, lowered a little in the mix, and if more echo had been applied.
‘Echoes Of Battle’ is a commendable effort, for certain, and whilst it pales in comparison with Summoning’s work both old and new, is still worthy of the attention of any respecting listener.
One of the key elements of true artistry is juxtaposition. The simplest example one could give of this, from the visual perspective, is the process of using black and white with one another to create countless emotions displayed through different shades of grey. Although this style of imagery may be referred to as "black and white," the grays are the finished product we take in.
What does all this have to do with heavy metal? Or better yet, why mention it in regards to Echoes of Battle, the completely-out-of-nowhere debut album from Salt Lake City's Caladan Brood? To begin with, the words "they sound like Summoning" are not adequate, nor are they entirely accurate. More importantly though, this is one of the first albums in a very long time that showed me a glimpse, even if only a slight one, of what music -- of what heavy metal -- is capable of. In order to explain what I mean, I'm going to have to bore you with one of my very own musical (mis)adventures.
According to those who have spent time in the Rocky Mountains, The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest is where civilization meets the wild. Having often vacationed in these parts, these snowy mountains were just one of those places I enjoyed listening to metal, especially in my younger years. Every sincere fan of metal has a special place within which they enjoy listening to their favorite albums. For me, wandering around in the moonlight, or laying in four feet of untouched-and-freshly-fallen snow among wild animals and pine trees that reached for the night sky was just where I wanted to be when the sounds of Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, or The Somberlain, came pummeling through my headphones. After a night of listening to music in such a surreal setting I would return home feeling like I had just conquered the world, all I could do was grin and think: Never have I felt so alive.
Fast forward twelve-or-so hours. I'm driving down Little Cottonwood Canyon alone in a rickety Jeep Grand Wagoneer, listening to the Led Zeppelin tape that has been stuck in the player for years, remembering how I got into heavy metal in the first place. I'm dressed nicely now -- with no pentagram-on-back and cleanly shaven, ready to listen to one of the most beautiful embodiments of music that has ever existed, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Although a bit antiquated in its instrumentation and song selection, no honest person should feel it necessary to deny the power and sheer beauty of souring vocals such as these. All kinds of music have brought me to tears, but none quite like the way this group has. And all I can do is dry my face and think: Never have I felt so alive*.
Caladan Brood isn't quite a band that takes the lightest-of-the-light and the darkest-of-the-dark and juxtaposes them, and perhaps the group doesn't possess the ability to do so entirely, but they do give the listener a glimpse into what this clash of emotions could be like. In the spiritual or metaphysical sense, or even in the simplest sense of metal-categorization, Caladan Brood definitely possesses more light than it does darkness (the album cover of Echoes of Battle is a good visual reference point). Perhaps I'm unfarily stereotyping because of where the band is from (and because the album's vocal harmonizing sounds like it's good enough to fit right in with MO-TAB), but something tells me Caladan Brood could have just as easily selected Helaman and his two thousand stripling warriors or Captain Moroni as lyrical topics as opposed to Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Either way, hooray that it's not more generic Tolkien worship, right? Now onward to more important things...
What is the foundation of the music? While there's certainly no doubt that members Shield Anvil and Mortal Sword are influenced by a fair amount of black metal, the exclusivity of said influence is a bit misleading. A better way of saying "epic, melodic, atmospheric folkened black metal" is probably just going with a much simpler term: medieval. The drums set a nice steady pace that ranges from a slow march to a slightly faster march, without ever going into a full on sprint-to-the-finish. Much like the group's chief European counterpart (yes, Caladan Brood does draw some influences from Summoning), the album's atmosphere is ladened by keyboard effects and melodies, and further built up by constant tremolo-ing that gently fluctuates alongside the beat of the drums. And yes, Echoes of Battle predominantly features shrieking, harsh vocals that comprise what are its "darkest" characteristics.
And what of the highs? Let's think of some classic examples of choral vocals in folk-influenced metal. Bathory's "Twilight of the Gods" started things off on a great note, didn't it? Quorthon indeed paved the road for the wonderfully bombastic approaches of Moonsorrow and Ensiferum, best demonstrated on Kivenkantaja and From Afar, respectively. If the man was alive, he'd probably shit his pants knowing he laid the foundation for the climaxes of "Raunioilla" or "Heathen Throne." Even more consistently than its presumed influences, Echoes of Battle absolutely soars during its perfect choral outbursts. With the help of guest vocalist Ryan Hunter, who also engineered, mixed and mastered the album, Caladan Brood has belted enough stanzas to help metal climb to even greater heights. And last but not least, guitarist Leeland Campana of Salt Lake's Visigoth makes two tremendous solo appearances on "Wild Autumn Wind" and "A Voice Born of Stone and Dust," which add a very classic, heavy metal finishing touch on what is the best debut the world will most likely hear this year.
So what are we left with? Aside from an album that's sure to get many, many spins from fans of its style, Caladan Brood has given us a peak of something far greater: the possibility of a band possessing, understanding and embracing both the light and the darkness, and using them to construct art. While many would look at a 24-hour period of musical adventure such as the one I've shared above and see nothing but paradoxes, I look at it and see a work of art that I've just created for myself. And ultimately, experiences such as these are what wield us. We all possess darkness and light. It's what we use them for that paint the pictures that are to become our character. That is juxtaposition, and thanks to Caladan Brood, my understanding of this has become crystal clear.
-Originally written for http://lastrit.es
I really liked this album when I first heard it- I think most people who enjoy a bit of epicness and/or total Summoning worship would find it hard to resist its well produced, deliberately grand-as-fuck opening strains. But just as an impressive bit of steak goes off if you leave it in the kitchen and don't freeze it, so this album started smelling, then kinda rotting, with the end result being a very relieved Caspian deciding not to order the LP.
What I'm trying to get at with that terrible metaphor is that this album initially seems pretty fucken impressive and shit, but about two listens later you're sorta getting a bit bored. Here I am, maybe 10 or so listens on from that (and with a new Summoning to put it in proper context) and I've come to the unfortunate conclusion that this is actually quite a bad record, it's not even really all that good for background study/rainy surf times music, it's honestly just quite forgettable, if not aggressively boring. A gravy steak in scotch fillet packaging.
Anyway, so Echoes of Battle takes a lot from Summoning's Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame- the drum production, the synth sounds, those huge choirs, that sort of wide open, clearly differentiated mix where everything's super audible. They add a few of their own things- guitar solos here and there (dudes can clearly rip, no question about it) and overall a bit of an extra rock feel to the whole churning, mountains-of-New-Zealand sound. Pursuing such a sound is fine and good and I'd be lying if I said that I wouldn't be getting super moist right now if someone told me of a band with that sort of sound. But descriptions and actual music quality don't have a perfect correlation and here's good enough proof of that.
It tries sounding epic and you do get taken in on the first listen or two. But when the initial froth fades it's not so good a picture; those really badly autotuned vocals (just layer them up like Summoning dudes) that are everywhere- compare them to Farewell or Land of the Dead, and take note of just how uncreative and flat out boring those melody lines are. Compare the middling, totally unmemorable synth lines (in any song) to the delightful, incredibly immersive melodies of something like Ashen Cold or Khazad Dum, etc etc. Finding pan flute samples and playing them over a droning, sorta-there riff is again, something that would normally make me quite aroused, but here it's just really uninteresting.
I know that it's a bit unfair to be all "well the riffs just AREN'T THAT GOOD", etc, as that's a rather subjective thing, innit? But it's honestly the truth of the matter. Caladan Brood know how to program some drums, they know how to write a pretty mean guitar solo- certainly the last few minutes of Ashes of Dead Empire is pretty rad in that whole, big epic guitar bro solo thing that happens- but overall we're just looking at a pretty big deal of nothing here.
When I was first approached to review Caladan Brood's Echoes of Battle I was quite anticipatory as to what brand of atmospheric 'black' metal I might be in for, especially when I saw Summoning mentioned in the press release. I tend to not allow such comparisons to influence my opinions one way or another; after all, how many bands cite Venom or Bathory as an influence and are nothing short of laughable? That said, this Salt Lake City duo is nothing to be taken lightly or to find laughable in any sort of capacity. This is already going to be on my Top Ten list at year's end, that's a given.
Using fantasy literature as a template for the music, members Shield Anvil and Mortal Sword manage to create some of the more fantastical and introspective music this side of the foggy din of a Swedish mountainside. The ambiance created with the stupendous keyboards is absolutely breathtaking when taken in within one long inhaled breath only to exhale the wonder and cold that is history's wondrous lineage of swords and battles atop a frozen tundra of blood and thunderous armies marching into certain Hell. The images created within this music are second to none, reflecting all of the novels and short stories we metalheads ingested like candy as impressionable children. Two songs into this gem and I'm in absolute awe!
The only way to describe this collective is to say it's a release of epic proportions, yet I won't lump or file it in with other “epic” albums of similar slant because, frankly, the term is overused so much these days. What Echoes of Battle is and possesses is 70-minutes of a Steven Erikson novel come to musical life, drawing upon the texts of his work, Malazan Book of the Fallen. Every bit the magical piece of imaginative splendor, the orchestral visages of war that Caladan Brood produces are nothing short of sonic majesty; if it seems like an inflated fluff piece, I assure you, I tend to drift off during elongated tracks if the music doesn't hold my attention, but I found myself at the end of each track longing for more as my own mind formulates tremendous visuals of great battles and copious losses of life amidst the ruins of what once was. The mark of a truly great piece of music is to have its background and forefront linger in your head for long periods after it leaves the room. The Caladan Brood does just that, to a very high and precise degree.
The vocals are a throaty, yet concise blackened issuance, but there are brief and highly potent lapses into clean, large tones that are as bellowing and commanding as anything you've heard before in similar music. It's a wonderful style when implemented properly and carefully. To label this 'black' metal would serve to stultify the music that really delves out and beyond the reaches of the typical atmospheric Alcest-drenched music. The guitar and drum work can often initiate feelings of magical bleakness and tumultuous resolve in one measure, and that alone keeps me interested and enlightened. This is also the type of record that I simply can't break down track by track, as is my usual way of grading I suppose; but when I start hearing “To Walk the Ashes of Dead Empires” I find myself mentally wandering a battered and crimson-painted field of suffering and great pain as the music builds to a zenith so intense that I'm lost in the visuals my mind can't help but create. The album commences with the solemn, yet hopeful “Book of the Fallen”, bringing the album to its logical and necessary conclusion.
When you think of true 'battle-metal' or atmospheric metal music, I implore you to take this record and seal yourself away for a time. It will be well worth your effort., even if the thought of long tracks puts you off. You'll become so engrossed in what you're hearing and the pictures within your mind's eye that before you know it the phase is over and the pattern begins anew. This is truly a remarkable piece of work, and Caladan Brood is on my eternal radar. Watch for it in early 2013; you won't be sorry.
When did Utah become the new plains for raids of old?
(Originally written for www.metalpsalter.com)
Quite some noise has been made in the metal scene around the release of "Echoes of Battle" of the Salt Lake City-based atmospheric and epic black metal band Caladan Brood. After a few spins, I might agree that the band is worth all this attention and could in fact become the next big thing in its scene. I'm quite sure that this album will figure in many lists of people's favourite 2013 records. On the other side, I think one shouldn't go all too far as this is only a debut record. I might also add that this band sounds a little bit too close to a few well known genre bands I also appreciate. First of all, there are of course the often mentioned Summoning but I have also detected more or less important influences of bands such as Agalloch, Bathory, Falkenbach, Moonsorrow, Nokturnal Mortum or even Tyr from the Faroe Islands.
Caladan Brood play atmospheric, epic and sometimes folk driven black metal. The atmosphere and the lyrics are inspired by Steven Erikson's "Malazan Book of the Fallen" fantasy novels. The concept and the overall guiding line of the record seem to be more important to the band than the single tracks. That's where my main problem lies in. This album is surely very coherent and well structured but the single songs lack of unique passages, gripping hooks or catchy melodies. Even after several spins, I fail to distinguish the six different tracks from each other. The record rather works as a whole as it's also the case for classical music for example. Another weak point are the redundant slow and mid tempo passages of the record that includes no longer uptempo parts that could bring a few well needed changes in. That's where bands such as Bathory or Falkenbach are clearly more diverisfied and therefor also more intense than Caladan Brood. From an atmospheric and conceptual point of view, they are though almost unbeatable.
"Echoes of Battle" is some sort of challenging cinematic experience for your ears and best served with your headphones on in a dark room when you have the patience to dig deeper into the concept. That's when this fantasy soundtrack becomes truly magical in its best moments but this kind of challenging stuff also requests a lot of interest, introspection and time from its listeners that one can't always afford towards this release. The patient ones will be rewarded but anyone else might find this record a little bit too ambitious and long for its own good. A few shorter tracks would have helped indeed. Caladan Brood works very well with epic topics and folk driven emotions but the song writing itself could be more diversified and unique. Maybe more band members than just two ones that share all the duties could bring in some new inspirations and possibilities as the risk is elevated that the band could easily get too repetitive in the near future. One the other side, I will definitely keep an eye on the band and there is a lot of promising potential in here after all. I sincerely hope that there are even greater things to come and I'm curious to see how the band deals with all these high hopes.
To properly cover Caladan Brood's epic debut album Echoes of Battle, it's important to first clear the elephant from the cage, because it's going to be said, and a thousand times: this is a band which sounds quite similar to Summoning. In aural architecture, theme, instrumentation, band makeup, and even the choice of cover artwork/framing, this Utah duo takes on an eerily familiar task to Austria's acclaimed partnership, and for many listeners this will immediately imbue a love/hate bias with what they've set out to accomplish. Granted, they're not the first nor the last to pursue this path. Acts like Kinstrife & Blood, Elffor, Rivendell and Munruthel have all explored a comparable sound, and to be truthful, Caladan Brood are one of the best of the batch, thanks to the cohesion and consistency of their vision and their capacity as songwriters to keep such bloated compositions from stagnating. Now, as I'm not one to hold a band's influences (even this overt) against it: 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery', they say, and the worst I could claim is that Shield Anvil and Mortal Sword have great fucking taste. If the songs are solid, I'm not about to lay into Exhumed too hard for sounding like Carcass, or Kingdom Come for spending too much time nosing about in the Led Zeppelin cookbook. After all, how many of today's most favored black hearts have drunk too closely from the well of Bathory, Burzum, Mayhem, Darkthrone or Dissection? Why not Summoning, one of the greatest bands in the world?
Now comes the part where I convince you of the differences between Caladan Brood and their spiritual mentors. The most obvious is in the fiction from which the Salt Lakers have drawn their inspiration. Rather than become the next in succession for the Tolkien throne, which has at this point been comprehensively covered by acts like Summoning and Blind Guardian, this duo delves into the grim and oft impenetrable shared universe of Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esselmont's Malazan Book of the Fallen; a sprawling, dark, ambitious, richly imagined series of novels which this reviewer just happens to be a major proponent for. I cannot stress enough how important it is that a band pulls its head out of the arse of tradition and decides to bypass the usual Tolkien, Howard, Moorcock and Jordan cultism for something more refreshing, and in this day and age, deserving. Not that I've got a problem with most of those authors, mind you. I've been reading them for decades, with no end in sight; but bring on the Glen Cook Black Company brutal death, or the Jeff VanderMeer Ambergris funereal myco-drone/doom, the China Miéville Bas-Lag Gothic grindcore, or the Joe Abercrombie-based battle metal. I've spent more hours immersed in Erikson's dense, textured, beautiful and harrowing prose than almost any other author the past five years, so it goes without saying that I share Caladan Brood's passion (even named for a central figure in several of the books), and that really: it's about goddamn time.
How well does the duo convey the atmosphere from the setting through their music? Lyrically, I would say that they're spot fucking on. Much of the prose takes an atmospheric approach to important scenes and battles from the books, giving the listener/reader a more bird's eye, descriptive view of the setting, but there are also some pretty specific excursions, like "A Voice Born of Stone and Dust" which is told from the perspective of the undead T'lann Imass, some of my favorite characters in the stories. As for the music itself, I must say I was marginally less invested, perhaps because my internalized ideas for a Malazan 'soundtrack' would be more dissonant, disparate, complex, and hopeless. For all intensive purposes, most of Echoes of Battle lives true to its name: hymns of fell majesty and long abandoned battles, and in Caladan Brood's defense, there are a whole lot of these through the saga. The turning and shaping of a world and its deities, ever in flux and opposition. Reader response to fiction is always subjective, and I'd say the duo has done at least as good of aesthetic interpretation job as, say, Peter Jackson and his Lord of the Rings films. The melodies through these songs often feel too evident and safe, where I would have just gone darker, darker, darker than Anomander Rake himself...more obfuscated, more atonal, and more unnerving.
But that's really just a matter of personal preference. Caladan Brood still manages to evoke some haunted and chilling moments through the very nature of their chosen medium. Long, drawn out compositions range from 9-15 minutes, driven by programmed, thunderous percussion slathered in trailing streams of sadness suffused through the tremolo picked guitar patterns. The general tempo is a solemn, marching pace that is fit for its introspective paeans to both loss and beauty, but there are opportunities where the speed of the songs is ramped up to provide a degree of variation. I get a bit of Moonsorrow in numerous of the band's note progressions. Keys are used to represent bright flutes, horns, and other orchestrated fixtures and cast the listener into that alternate-reality Dark Ages atmosphere of the fiction, but in truth, this is where Echoes of Battle most mirrors its Summoning influence (and a hint of later Graveland). The difference, I think, is that Caladan Brood don't flaunt that raw, unhinged undercurrent of the earlier efforts in the Austrian's backlog; this is produced easily on the level of Mortal Heroes Sing Thy Fame or Oath Bound; so there's a good balance to the emulation of the drums, string and wind instruments that keep them constant with the distortion of the guitars and the unhallowed rasp of the vocal. Where needed, though, like the bowels of "To Walk the Ashes of Death Empires", this all swells into a wonderful portrait of gleaming sadness. Shield and Sword are patient composers, and like the gradual ballast of an emotional film score, they count the moments and strike where its most effective.
One welcome deviation here from their most prominent influence is the decision to implement brooding, harmonious choirs that resonate like a deeper, baritone approximation of the Faroe Islands' folk metallers Týr, or a bit of Borknagar. These are rich in tone, well placed in tracks like "Wild Autumn Wind", and provide an important contrast to the central, crude rasp, which is itself effective but not exactly news in the wake of such an expansive, populous genre. I also have to hand it to them: the sense of escalation and the lack of tasteless, endless repetition really help fill out the spacious compositions, and as such the 70+ minutes of the album pass without much ennui setting in. Riff for riff though, I didn't find the metallic components of the songs to be constantly fantastic or engaging. Individual progressions fit the framework of the drums and orchestration very well, but when separated from the rhythmic skeleton they're more or less familiar to anyone whose been listening to European black metal for the past 20 years. It wouldn't kill them to write some catchier, creepier note sequences with as much proclivity to stagger the listener as Erikson's written page. Also, the bass just isn't much of a factor throughout the album...you can hear it bucking along below the other instruments, but it's more of a structural support than a strong feature.
Ultimately, though, Echoes of Battle really isn't about show, flashy, or immensely intricate guitar rhythms at the fore, but more of a correspondence of all its instruments into a saddening, symphonic mass, and in this Caladan Brood most certainly is a success. Mood music for mysterious magical warrens and mythical warfare. A pleasant and poignant listen fore to aft, with a lot of threads of semi-hypnotic melody that arrive at critical moments to help alleviate the listener from any sense of exhaustion from the album's substantial torrents of grandeur. Yeah, it sounds like Summoning (they don't hide the fact), but one must consider that it is merely the duo's debut album. Imperfect, perhaps, and I couldn't point out particular tunes that stand out far from the rest, or any that resonated deep with me for a lengthy period of time, but as a building block for future progression and experimentation, it's an admirable debut, and the subject of their affectations really cannot be beat when it comes to contemporary VLFN (very long fantasy novels) of the darker, deeply anthropological variety. Whether you enjoy the Erikson/Esselmont collective or you have a craving for fictional battle metal on a massive scale, Echoes of Battle is worth your time to pursue. Time which I've already wasted enough of here, so Forkrul over that major credit card. I had to insert a bad pun somewhere.