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The widespread scorn heaped upon Suidakra regarding Command to Charge did a lot to set the stage going forward. While the aforementioned watershed effort featured a few truly awesome cuts like "Dead Man's Reel" and "Reap the Storm," a number of discursive departures from the well-entrenched roots of the band's long-standing genre mashup left many out in the cold. After taking into account the more straightforward melodic death exercise that was Signs for the Fallen, the grandeur of epics like The Arcanum and Emprise to Avalon were becoming but specks in the distance of the Scottish heather - and growing ever smaller.
To Antonik's credit, he shuffled his deck a bit for this one, ejecting Kupka and rotating Schoenen back into the lineup proper. What we have here is in essence the classic Suidakra roster, and this fact is undoubtedly reflected upon the music. "Highland Hills" wastes no time in proving the potency of this approach, covering a number of bases in its eight-plus minute run time and taking care to check all of the necessary hallmarks on its way. Certainly an atypical songwriting stance from these guys, but a number of more direct, streamlined cuts await deeper in the procession, like "Forth-Clyde" and "Evoke the Demon." Toss in three acoustic numbers courtesy of Schoenen, and it goes without argument that we are certainly looking at the framework for something grand here.
In my review for Command to Charge I stated that Caledonia was stylistically indebted to the two records that directly preceded it. The band hasn't attempted to force a revisionist coup and return to their earliest methodology, instead drawing from all of their post-The Arcanum tropes to meld something unique and memorable. As such, the leads aren't quite as soaring and sticky as on Emprise to Avalon, instead deferring to the chunky rhythm section and incredible bass tone to help fill in the atmospheric gaps and inject some quick vitriol when needed. Riewaldt's bass deserves a special mention on its own, absolutely dominating the mix at points and really giving Caledonia a parched, dessicated aural quality that while far from the warmer tones the band has traditionally sided with, is a great change of pace that was sadly dropped soon afterward. Check out the beginning of "Dawning Tempest," during which one almost forgets about how great the riff is underneath, what with the clangy, omnipresent bass slicing and clawing its way to the forefront. There are still some scant keyboards here and there like on "On Torrid Sand," and as usual Antonik makes use of very little regarding the synths, knowing when to interject in order to raise the proceedings to an even more stratospheric echelon.
This leaves some of the more experimental numbers to bring up the rear, and Schoenen is truly at his greatest here. As impressive as Tina Stabel may be, she can never fill the void left by his departure. "The IXth Legion" shows how powerful his cleaner tones are, and diversity is solidified with more affecting, emotional vocal performances like on "The Ember Deid (Part II)." His acoustic ditties are always well worth the listener's time, far from embodying the space-filler status often relegated to such. "Ramble" is one of the greatest acoustic numbers Suidakra has ever written (it runs through three distinct motifs, each better than the last), and serves as a well-needed breather and allows the troops to regroup for another attack. That attack is without a doubt the aforementioned "Dawning Tempest," and after the more half-and-half experimentation of "The Distant Call," Caledonia continues and never lets up in any form or fashion.
Truly a modern classic, and if I was to draft a "Top three Suidakra albums", this would fit seamlessly next to The Arcanum and Emprise to Avalon. Caledonia takes all of what makes modern Suidakra so great, and distills it into the finest of essences. Will this end up being Suidakra's final great album? I surely hope not, but I can't necessarily complain either.