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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.