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Swords, Sorcery and Strange, Surreal Science - 100%

bayern, January 20th, 2017

Once upon a time there was a man named Howie Bentley, a lawful heir to the Bentley car company… kidding of course!, a young budding musician whose passion for old school metal led him to found a band under his own name and produce a demo (“Beyond the Shade Gates”) in 1993, four compositions of standout complex 80’s American power/speed metal with a cat… sorry, girl behind the mike, the name Cat Denton; a natural evolution from the more intricate efforts of the late-80’s from that scene (Realm’s “Suiciety”, Helstar’s “Nosferatu”, Psychotic Waltz’ “Social Grace”, Toxik’s “Think This”); a long forgotten gem which is now readily available to the fans, re-released as a part of the “God of Metal” compilation (1998) from the Cauldron Born discography. The guy showed surprising maturity from the get-go, and a full-length of such proportions would have been the most logical step for the consolidation of the new star rising.

Well, logic has never been the metal field’s most faithful companion, and Bentley’s future development isn’t an exception from the norm. A few months later he is already the leader of another formation, the previously mentioned Cauldron Born, and the title of their debut demo (“Swords, Sorcery and Science”) suggests from miles away that this would be a collection of rousing, heroic battle hymns. What remained a mystery is how Bentley would be able to translate his initial intriguing delivery onto this new, much less technically demanding context…

Well, the truth is that he miraculously manages to recreate his exuberant exploits onto the new “canvas”; without fail at that. Under these circumstances there was no delaying the appearance of the full-length although it took the guys (no girls anymore) whole three years before that became a fact. Not surprisingly based on the material from the demo, save one track, this opus is a milestone of classic power/speed/thrash, an exemplary melting pot for those three genres seldom achieved before or after. All the aforementioned acts can again be cited as an influence with additional nods to luminaries from the other side of The Atlantic like Coroner and Deathrow.

This is retro metal brought to its most intricate and outlandish. The approach here is not as meanderingly progressive as the one of early Fates Warning although similarities between the two bands can by all means be detected the moment the opening “Crusader” starts weaving those serpentine schizoid rhythms which nicely support the impetuous gallops the guitar “duels” reaching classical virtuosity in the second half. Enters “The Sword’s Lament” and the listener will be enchanted by the brilliant emotional vocal performance which gives a strong operatic boost to this astonishing technical masterpiece: the twists and turns here would be hard to match even by wizards like Psychotic Waltz and Deathrow again. The fan will have no choice but to listen to this surreally audacious display of talent with his/her mouth open which will open even more widely later once some of the most puzzling shreds appear literally out of nowhere to close this cut. “Synchronicity at Midnight” has one of the most abrupt super-technical introductions this side of Coroner’s “Semtex Revolution” before a short lead section interferes also paving the way for the galloping passage which never reaches the speed of light, but assuredly marches onward in league with some gorgeous melodies later on.

“Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” is an imposing epicer full to the brim with spastic, labyrinthine riff-formulas which change every few seconds, but retaining the sinister main motif all over the latter reminiscent of Helstar’s “Nosferatu”; a breath-taking quiet break is served right before a cool progressive, dramatic stroke invades to stay till the end. “The Final Incantation” puts the bass up front, but its role is quickly overshadowed by a beautiful melodic hook and several acoustic guitar additions all those making this number the most melodic and the most orthodox one here. “In Fate’s Eye a King” resumes the stylish riffing with a sophisticated semi-galloping flavour which becomes more and more vigorous as the melodic sweeps around it become more and more bemusing; expect classical-prone pyrotechnics galore as well as a shattering more aggressive technical section in the second half the guys moshing with full force to a nearly overwhelming effect. One will have appreciation still left for the following title-track which bedazzles with a most eccentric jarring intro, and later on it remains a really perplexing shredder with fast-paced crescendos taken straight from “Nosferatu” again, not to mention the superb mazey vortexes ala Coroner which seamlessly flow into more linear galloping passages and sudden brash lead sections; an absolute masterpiece of complex, multi-layered music at its most operatic best. A very wise choice has been made for the closer “Unholy Sanctuary” since there was no way for the band to exert themselves for another similar feat; this epitaph is an officiant doom metal anthem with great progressive accumulations the guys notching up the speed (they can’t help it) at some stage turning the final minutes into a diverse roller-coaster with the doomy motifs returning to wrap it on.

Even if Bentley had failed to put his name under any other piece of music, he would have remained in the annals of metal as one of the most striking musicians to ever work within its confines. His guitar wails, cries, shreds, rages, dooms and eulogizes creating pure musical magic in the process (it’s sorcery we’re talking about, after all). The only other single-guitar band I can think of, who used to produce similar dense “symphonic” rifforamas are… hey, enough with these Swiss maestros named after police inspectors! Cauldron Born only occasionally call in the coroner… sorry, thrash for assistance, but the frequent technical chops and the jarring riff-patterns invariably side them with the thrash metal fraternity, too. I doubt that Bentley and Co. would have had a problem coming up with something as grand as “Control & Resistance”, or “Awaken the Guardian”. The thing is that their passion for the good old battle hymns of the US “war” veterans from the 80’s was too big to leave them to pursue the technical metal path.

A 5-year break is too long a period for a young band who want to establish themselves on the scene… Anyway, in-between the guys found time to release the first two demos (the Howie Bentley one included) together as the aforementioned “God of Metal” compilation although it took another four years before the sophomore opus appeared. I can’t hide the fact that “… and Rome Shall Fall” remains a fairly underwhelming listening experience to these ears, fourteen years down the line. I was waiting for it with such trepidation that there was no way I was going to savour this heroic epic power/speed metal that had very little from the technical swagger of its predecessor. For fans of 80’s American power metal again, and those who loved the 90’s power/speed metal movement, this album would be a sure pick, and even I started to like it a bit recently; it’s just that those early supernatural guitar acrobatics have been very sparsely present, if at all, and this effort sounded as though the band had made a correction to their flamboyant style of old; as though they have made a statement saying that what came before was just an isolated experiment, the guys functioning under some unknown mind-altering substance; and that this was what would be expected from them in the years to come…

It was probably good that the band kept a low profile for quite some time rather than developing into the next soaring battle “minstrels” on the scene. They used the time wisely, though, to found another act, Briton Rites, and to choose the doom metal path to explore with very positive results. Their only album so far (“For Mircalla”; who remembers the Sheridan Le Fanu vampire classic “Carmilla”?) from 2010 is a sheer gem, easily one of the ten best doom metal recordings of the new millennium; the world wouldn’t mind at all if Bentley carries on in this direction. He hasn’t forgotten about his old love Cauldron Born either, which took a fuller shape in 2014 with the release of the “Sword and Sorcery Heavy Metal” EP containing remastered versions of the first Cauldron Born demo, a cover of the Swedish epicers Heavy Load, and a monstrous 12.5-min opening saga (“Crom, Count the Dead”) the latter a sign that the more adventurous song-writing may as well return soon to show again what true masters of the dark arts can conjure out of this “black cauldron”.

Incredibly technical and obtuse USPM - 96%

Jophelerx, September 2nd, 2012

Cauldron Born's Born of the Cauldron is among the ranks of Manilla Road, early Fates Warning, Hanker, and Existence in that they're incredibly difficult to get into; in Cauldron Born's case it's because they're extremely technical and progressive; it's often hard to follow the music because of its complexity, and you have to listen to it several times before you can pull out the hooks (although, rest assured, they're definitely there). The riffs are strange and they often change quickly, making it easy to be overwhelmed by the music. However, like Manilla Road, once you're able to absorb all of it, it's well worth the wait. This is some absolutely top-tier material.

1994 saw the band's first release, the Swords, Sorcery, and Science demo, which features three songs that would later make it to their first full-length, as well as a song that didn't make it. That being said, I'm very glad that Howie Bentley did not stick with Christian Schulze as lead singer; while he hits the notes, his tone isn't very enjoyable, and he lacks charisma. Some of my favorite parts on Born of the Cauldron thanks to the skill of Danny White, are some of the worst fuckups on the part of Schulze. In a nutshell, just avoid that demo, and pretend it doesn't exist. BotC's Danny White is worlds away from Schulze, with a powerful midrange, soaring falsetto, and a huge presence. However, he's also pretty unique; there are hints of Geoff Tate and James Rivera here and there, but the guy definitely has his own voice. His clear, slightly demented, white collar tone is also perfect for the material, as his strangely enchanting delivery complements the dissonant, dark, and technical guitar lines wondrously. I can't imagine anyone doing a better job with this material; such is pretty evident with the aforementioned demo, showing how bewildered a lesser vocalist is by all the obtuse oddities. It's only a shame White hasn't done anything else in metal.

Lyrically, the album draws from a number of literary references, proving themselves to be on the awesomely nerdy side of PM along with greats like Manilla Road and Virgin Steele. Specifically, the songs reference only Arthurian legend, Michael Moorcock, Robert E. Howard, and ancient Egyptian culture, but there are more subtle influences, like Lloyd Alexander (perhaps not so subtle, given the band's name) and Lovecraft. Needless to say, the album holds up lyrically as well as it does musically. The production, too, is excellent, with a thick, clear guitar tone, loud and manly drums, and (sometimes) a nicely audible bass.

Musically, the album can more or less be organized into two categories: more straightforward songs, and more obtuse songs (which can be divided into two subcategories: those with a more battle-thirsty, blue collar tinge, and those with a dark, doomy atmosphere, as of forbidden lore). The straightforward songs would be the best ones to start out with, as it's easiest to pick out the hooks in these. There are two songs in this category: "Crusader" and "The Final Incantation/In the Dreaming City". "Crusader" is probably the more accessible of the two, and the first Cauldron Born song I really got into myself; while the riffs are still quite technical and noodly, it's got a strong, triumphant feeling to it, excellent harmonies, and a kickass chorus; there's literally nothing bad I can say about this song. Lyrically it seems to be anti-Christian, or perhaps just anti-organized religion in general; it tells the tale of an insane, bloodthirsty crusader and points out everything that is wrong with what he is doing. It does so quite well, with, not surprisingly, an excellent delivery from White. "The Final Incantation" is a bit darker and more progressive, though still fairly easy to follow, with some really cool bass lines and catchy riffs and vocal lines; while the song changes pretty quickly, none of the ideas are particularly complex, at least compared to the rest of the album. This one is more traditional for the album lyrically, speaking of black magic and ancient beings, this time bringing H.P. Lovecraft more to mind.

Those that fall into the 'obtuse but battle-tinged' category are as follows: "The Sword's Lament" and "In Fate's Eye a King". "The Sword's Lament" was actually the most difficult song for me to get into it, and it's only been in the last few weeks that I've really begun to appreciate everything about it. Rather than the Fates Warning influence heard on most of the rest of the album, this takes more of an Omen influence, although it's still quite technical; perhaps Slauter Xstroyes would be a better comparison. The harmonies here are quite sublime, especially the wordless vocal harmonies White has toward the end of the song. Lyrically, the song draws from Arthurian legend, Moorcock, and some other influences that I'm not familiar with, describing a sword that has been reincarnated as virtually every major sword in legend or fantasy. It's an interesting concept, and I find it works quite well. "In Fate's Eye a King" is a bit more accessible, but the vocal lines are strange, sounding almost spoken at times, as White narrates the tale of a king of Cimmeria - Kull perhaps? I'm not intimately familiar with Howard, but they reference Kull in their second album, and he was a king, so that's my best guess. At any rate, the song is quite good, although it can be a bit overlong at times.

The final category, 'obtuse and doomy/arcane' consists of the remaining four songs, "Synchronicity at Midnight/A Baying of Hounds", "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs", "Born of the Cauldron" and "Unholy Sanctuary". "Synchronicity" is probably the worst of these; it's good, but not as catchy or powerful as the others, not drawing the listener in as much but definitely not failing. "Born of the Cauldron" is fantastic, with some of the strangest, most dissonant leads on the album, making it one of the less accessible songs, but one that makes quite an impression, sounding like some dark, chaotic nightmare. "Unholy Sanctuary" and "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" are musically pretty similar; not so much that it sounds like the same song, but the structures and atmospheres are very much alike, which has led me to often refer to "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" as the little brother of "Unholy Sanctuary", as the former is not quite as good as the latter. Both evoke feelings of a dark, sealed, ancient crypt with forbidden magic of some type, that's being opened after a long time (that actually is the lyrical subject of the former song, more or less, and it's not too far off from the subject of the latter song). These are the doomiest songs here, and although there's not any overt Sabbath influence, as far as atmosphere is concerned they may as well be power/doom in my book.

This definitely isn't something you want to miss out on if you're a fan of early Fates Warning, Manilla Road, early fantasy/horror, or just USPM in general; although released in 1997, one of the worst years for USPM in history, it stands as one of my favorite albums of the genre to date, beating out most of its competition even in USPM's prime in the mid-to-late '80s. Howie Bentley puts his name on the map and begins his legacy proving that he is once of the greatest metal musicians of our time.

Carrying faithfully the USPM torch - 95%

failsafeman, May 16th, 2008

Born of the Cauldron is an oddity. Released in 1997, you'd expect it to carry the stamp of the times; it ought to sound like Imaginations from the Other Side, Barlow-era Iced Earth, or if we're really unlucky maybe even some kind of Helloween-plagiarizing keyboard-laden European cheese log. Instead, it somehow manages to channel a manic interpretation of USPM, and really to my ears the only modern-sounding aspect is present a bit in the drumming techniques (but maybe that's just my prejudice shining through). Rather than sounding of the white or blue collar USPM persuasion, it deftly reconciles elements of both to forge a sound simultaneously reminiscent of Crimson Glory's melancholy depth and Jag Panzer's strident, aggressive directness. "Depth and directness together? Isn't that paradoxical?" Well, not in execution, Mr. Hypothetical Reader. Rather, Cauldron Born tend to lean on the complexities and obtuse melodies, until just at the right moment a direct and straightforward riff will explode out, made all the more direct and visceral in contrast. For example, check the choruses to both "The Sword's Lament" and "The Final Incantation/In the Dreaming City"; aren't those riffs totally excellent and most triumphant? I'm sure the discerning listener could pick out many other instances. Early Fates Warning was very good at this as well, and I happen to know Howie Bentley cites them explicitly as a major influence. Now, this brings us to a couple of other good musical comparisons I can make, and unfortunately for most they will be a bit far afield; but hell, with Cauldron Born we're already pretty fucking far out there. Anyway, the band has a very manic style, throwing in tons of riffs, lead snippets, lengthy, complicated solos, jumping basslines, etc., most both melodically complex and quite memorable; a feat to say the least. Instantly I think of three bands: the aforementioned early Fates Warning, followed by Psychotic Waltz and Matthias Steele. The noodly guitar runs incorporated right into the riff structure and some of the melodies have Psychotic Waltz written all over them, and while I'm not sure they were a direct influence, it is at the very least a case of convergent evolution. Just listen to "In Fate's Eye a King" after A Social Grace and tell me you don't hear a distinct similarity. As for Matthias Steele, you can hear right off the bat that Danny White sounds a hell of a lot like Tony Lionetti. Their warm, vibrant, dramatic tones, bordering on the operatic; their impressive ranges and considerable power; and even their penchant for surprising you with a leap to a sudden piercing falsetto; all sound suspiciously similar. If you told me they were related, I wouldn't be surprised in the least. A lot of the vocal melodies and weird structural complexities are present in both bands as well, though Matthias Steele are somewhat less technical and tend to indulge in the tongue-in-cheek a lot more, and Cauldron Born lack their strong thrash influence as well. Still, the bands have far more in common than not. Also, Oracle's As Darkness Reigns is surprisingly similar in both composition and sound (again the singers are alike), though once more it's improbable they were actually a direct influence due to obscurity. Still, it's at least another instance of convergent evolution and should also give you a good idea of what Cauldron Born sound like.

Well, we still have the album's atmosphere and lyrical direction to deal with; for that, I've got two words: Manilla Road! Howie Bentley told me he hadn't actually heard of Manilla Road prior to writing this album, but the comparison is still apt. Cauldron Born focus more on Lovecraft and other pulp horror writers than Manilla Road did, but the gleeful myth-mixing is still there in full force. Just think less Odin and more Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard (the reissue contains both the lyrics and Bentley's interesting explanations). The atmosphere reflects the lyrical content flawlessly; surely a happy by-product of Bentley being both primary songwriter and lyricist. You can just feel the dark approcahing doom of the magician in "The Final Incantation/In the Dreaming City" as he calls upon ancient gods beyond his control and they drag him off to the void ("Liar, treacherer, you won't hide beyond the cross, we were here before you or your puny deities!"). Totally channeling Clark Ashton Smith with a side of Lovecraft, though oddly enough the lyrics have nothing to do with CAS's "The Last Incantation".

A bit of a misstep is the Warlord cover at the end; a fine song in its own right, "Lucifer's Hammer" is really simple in comparison to Cauldron Born's original material, and the transition is jarring. Imagine asking Michelangelo to paint a color-by-numbers of a Picasso, or something. Both fine artists, just wildly different and incompatible styles. Still, not a total bust, just less than the sum of its parts.

Born of the Cauldron is really one of those oddball releases that manages to be a successful statement in a style more or less creatively dead for years; one of even fewer from a band that wasn't ever a part of it in the first place. Manilla Road, Vortex, Pagan Altar, and the like may still be soldiering on after decades and keeping their old sparks alive, but it takes a really special band to conjure a new one up from the ashes.

Outstanding Sophisticated True Metal - 96%

Zod, October 20th, 2006

Cauldron Born are a highly underrated traditional metal band. They are firmly rooted in the traditional metal scene of bands like Manowar, Iron Maiden, Dio, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Mercyful Fate but managed to create their own unique style. Their debut album "Born of the Cauldron" was released in 1997 by Underground Symphony.

Each of the musicians is highly skilled. The guitar riffs on this album are far more developed and interesting than just about any other power metal band. The riffs are melodic but sophisticated, many times during a riff jumping up an octave to do a melodic run, reminding one of bands like Watchtower or Coroner at times. At other times the guitar riffs will feature arpeggiated chords that the bass accompanies. There are also some odd time signatures utilized here and there to keep things interesting. It's sophisticated parts like these during the rhythms of the songs that are a big factor in what gives Cauldron Born their unqiue sound. The vocalist Danny White is excellent, utilizing a high-ptiched vocal style perhaps a bit like Geoff Tate or Rob Halford. In particular, the vocal melody at the end of "The Final Incantation / In the Dreaming City" is really outstanding. The bass is unusually dominant for this type of music and he has a lot of great melodic runs. The guitar solos are well-done but not overly technical so as to lose the focus of the song.

The production sounds great and each instrument gets enough room in the mix to shine. The overall sound is very warm and pleasant to listen to. Lyrically, the album explores a lot of sword and sorcery/fantasy topics based on Robert E. Howard stories. "Imprisoned with the Pharohs" features some nice Egyptian-sounding guitar riffs that accentuate the theme of the lyrics. The final track, "Unholy Sanctuary", begins with a funeral-like dirge riff that recalls Candlemass and perfectly suits the lyrical story dealing with zombies rising from their graves and a band of people seeking refuge from their attack in a church.

I subtracted a few points over a few minor issues. First of all, let me be clear that I don't believe any album is perfect. I believe there is always room for improvement for musicians to strive for. My rating reflects that belief. There are times when the complexity of the piece sometimes seems to overshadow the intent of the song and I think some of the songs could benefit from a tighter arrangement (particularly "The Sword's Lament" and "Born of the Cauldron"). Keep in mind though, that I consider this critcism to be very minor considering the number of things "Born of the Cauldron" has done well and I consider this album to be a gem of underground metal.

Unfortunately, "Born of the Cauldron" is very, very hard to find and if you do find it expect to pay quite a bit for it. I hope that at some point it will be reissued because it is one of the very best traditional metal albums of the 90s.