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Like an oppressive frost, the winter of commonplace melodeath in “Command To Charge” had ravaged the pristine green lands where Suidakra once resided. For many a promising outfit to come out of the darkness of the mid 1990s black and death metal scenes, this sort of blizzard spells death for any hope of recovery, but thankfully the witch of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series had a very short run with these German turned Celtic fanatics. With a blast of spring heat and a much needed return to form, a winner has been uncovered in “Caledonia”, the Latinized name given by the Roman Empire for Scotland, a land that they were never able to tame during their campaigns of expansion during the imperial era. And in similar fashion, Arkadius has broken the bonds of commercialized melodeath for something equally as accessible, yet much more intricate and worthy of the legacy established by “The Arcanum” and “Emprise To Avalon”.
The rebirth established here is underscored in the wildly different album art, depicting a woodland landscape heavily reminiscent of Elvenking’s first 2 albums, and the music follows suit. The only remnant of their previous flop that endures here is the Scottish pipes, which were the only good thing to be heard on said album. The processed guitar sound, the whinny Andres Fridén vocal worship, and the 5th wheel Robb Flynn wannabe singer have all been dropped and the older, folksy melodies and Celtic lore has returned with a vengeance. Acoustic passages are accented to a point that actually surpasses most of their previous endeavors, and the clean vocal sections, while still somewhat gritty and gang chorus oriented, fit in with the epic template suggested in the title of the album. But most important of all is that instead of a depressive tableau that has been done to death since long before “Command To Charge”, what emerges here is a character of music triumphant enough to put Ensiferum on notice.
The only weak spot that this album that it overcompensates slightly, perhaps the most forgivable mistake a band can make given the situation, but definitely a noticeable one here. “Highland Hills” is arguably the most accomplished and ambitious epic song that this band has put together, throwing forth a highlight intricate mixture of fast paced riffs, thudding mid-paced grooves, dense keyboard textures, and epic pipes to recapture the image of William Wallace standing atop a pile of felled English soldiers. But its placement at the very beginning of the album lets the proverbial cat out of the bag, and leaves the listener wanting to jump back and listen again before experiencing the rest of the album. Nevertheless, “A Blackened Shield”, “Evoke The Demon” and “The IXth Legion” do an excellent job of bringing the goods home in the Viking era Bathory meets Skyclad packaging that was commonplace for them 6 years ago, and “The Ember Deid (Part II)” brings in the typical, woeful acoustic ballad element something fierce.
This is roughly the same caliber as the often glossed over “Lays From Afar”, but with a crunchier, newer sound that is more in line with the larger sounding tendencies of the present folk scene. It’s still markedly mid-tempo in character, breaking into occasional blast sections, but largely maintaining the Manowar feel of the past. Those who were a bit disappointed with this band’s mid 2000s output should be pretty well placated by this, if not completely blown away by how quickly they recovered from what seems to have been a mere momentary misstep. It can be argued that the true greats are the ones that learn from their mistakes, and with a little luck, maybe Children Of Bodom, In Flames and Edguy might take note of this, but forgive me if I don’t hold my breath.
Continuing Suidakra's amazing streak of releases (Averaging just under one a year), "Caledonia" returns to the band's folky roots, which, much to the disdain of fans, were dropped almost entirely on the experimental 2005 release "Command To Charge". Their signature sound is by no doubt revived, but the double-edged sword swings widely, my friends.
The band's attempt the return to their core sound was a bit overzealous; and the overall attempt at folkiness comes off as a little forced at time. Be it the faux accent on the clean vocals, or the extremism during the acoustic interludes; this is no "Emprise To Avalon", my friends; but far better than "Command To Charge". The band is truly on the right track again, just not all the way there.
The overall production is, as stated by the previous reviewer, extremely gratuitous on the low end. This helps showcase bassist Marcus Riewaldt's skills, definitely a path-less-traveled decision from a recording standpoint. Lars Wehner remains extremely inventive on the kit, choosing variation instead of your typical metal drummer flair. His war-drum like sounds definitely supplement the style the band has all but perfected over the past decade. Arkadius and Marcel continue to tear it up on the six-strings; will they ever run out of catchy folk melodies? Genius.
Onto the songs, intro "Highland Hills" is a bit overlong, but helps set the stage and build up momentum for the great, smashing track "A Blackened Shield". The album follows the typical formula for Suidakra releases, with a few acoustic interludes (Including the superb "Ramble") to break up the monotony. I will spare you the torment of reviewing each track seperately, but "Evoke The Demon" and "The IXth Legion" stand out as two more superb cuts.
The remaining unmentioned tracks are all good, but not quite up to Suidakra standards, proving that the band still has some wrinkles to iron out before returning to their superb form right after the turn of the century. By no means a reason to lose hope, "Caledonia" still cannot be missed by fans of the band, or melodic metal in general.
Note: I am updating this review based on the fact that I was probably too quick to review before. I initially gave this album an 83, that is far too low for this album I now consider classic. Hence, I have re-written the review.
Time to go into "how do I not rave and gush about this" mode. At the time an 83 seemed like the right score, but I have never been far from this album since. And it's grown, and grown in appreciation. Every song on this album crushes skulls. Just classic.
Suidakra are considerably aggressive, yet melodic, balancing somber folk inspired parts, slightly blackened faster riffs and unconvential melodic death metal. Vocals ranging from harsh death/black vocals, to singing, to chants. They wrap all this into a tight, musically proficiant, well written package that any fan of metal could appreciate.
Where most of their lesser contemporaries have abandoned blast beats, Suidakra still throw them in at just the right times in the music. The drumming is quite varied, and colorful. Always complimenting the other instruments nicely. The generic melo death worthless drummers should take notes from this guy - rather than playing their same plodding triplet beats with the same old fills and no variety, he mixes it up, and most importantly makes beats that compliment the music.
The guitar playing is hugely varied. From traditional heavy metal inspired riffs, to extremely melodious death metal with Suidakra's signature all over it, to pure folk acoustic Celtic parts (and even whole songs) to folk infused metal riffs - there is everything, and it's all well done.
And I have to say, the most remarkable thing about this album - nothing in the known universe makes me want to bang my head so damn hard as this album does. I mean, fucking kill people with my forehead. I mean, the lowest level I go to on this is "aggressive nodding", all the way up to "if you need to demolish a building, just put this album on and I will headbutt that fucker into oblivion."
In seriousness, this band blends all it's elements so well, and there is just so much punch to the music. Fantastic riffs abound. There is no lull in the greatness and headbang-inducing awesomeness of this offering. This is just a true classic.