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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.