Title: Echoes of Battle (Caladan Brood)
Genre: Atmospheric black metal
Running length: 71 min 13 sec
Release: Feb 15, 2013
WHERE POWER METAL delights in mythical dragons, holy swords, and an irrepressible spirit of swift victory, black ambience draws its energy from wistful retrospection and finding beauty within tragedy. Trapped between æons of ashen strata, it carries an infinity of wisdom, and is the antithesis of innocence. Utah-based Caladan Brood‘s debut epitomises these qualities to the highest degree, moulding into existence from Promethean clay a mature, multi-faceted ensemble of six accomplished tracks that leave me shuddering in cosmic insignificance. Google tells me it is loosely based upon Steven Erikson’s high-fantasy series Malazan Book of the Fallen, so like Beast in Black‘s Berserker, this falls into concept album territory — excellent concept album territory.
A sprinkling of mandolin gently stokes City of Azure Fire into motion, atmospheric synth fans the flames, and grisly bass rips apart the ancient oak door as the traveller crosses the threshold. It inches forth languidly, a beautiful, scarred elegy that evokes images of the paradise awaiting slain warriors, and catapults my thoughts into Kitezh where the Athanatoi ruled forevermore, alive in unnatural neon blue.
Echoes of Battle‘s melancholy, operatic six-bar opening sets the scene of a bloody battle. Gravelly snarls pierce through the melodic bubble, followed by a tightly packed cacophany of metal clashing and buried voices, and at last, the airy respite of cymbals and a noble flute. Caladan Brood displays an exquisite, multi-layered awareness of storytelling and musical imagery, which is executed so skilfully that each track — despite averaging 12 minutes in length — is mesmerising throughout.
Wild Autumn Wind is not only a solemn reminder of mortality and death’s cold caress, which befalls beasts and kings indiscriminately, but a pensive call to “the hollow weight of history”; the mightiest kingdoms all crumble to dust as the reaper spins the wheel of time, and they become “no more than a breath on the wind”. Its smooth guitars and scintillating riffs are almost a lullaby to ease the pain and futility, which emerges in low, distorted growls, warning us again and again that we will fall. Its repeated verses and hymn-like pacing, particularly the closing verse in which clean vocals and screams coalesce within a beautiful, contrasting union of harsh and smooth tones, acknowledges our transistory existence in such brutally honest and undiluted terms it becomes a transcendent ballad of exoneration.
Keeping the flame of poetic struggle burning strong, To Walk in the Ashes of Dead Empires mourns “the cost of war” in grating, abrasive shrieks, placid rain and thunder daring to interrupt Caladan Brood‘s sonorous dirge, and desperate to melt the bittersweet shadow of pity stitched across its verses. But even nature cannot halt the force of such heartache; the penultimate battle cry is beautiful and bursting with resignation. Cognizant of humanity’s passions, vices, and the unavoidable passage of time, Caladan Brood leaves us deep in reflection with a crackling fire and quaint folk motif as a memory of the past — a final order to preserve “forgotten words” and “deeds unknown” before they vanish entirely.
A Voice Born of Stone and Dust is thematically the darkest and most melodically dry, preferring short, anaerobic stanzas and heavy repetition for the first half, before yielding to sweeter, subdued mandolin ambience and tortured drawls. Almost like a foreigner, a rogue guitar injects some classic metal flavours into the soundscape, and a brief but enchanting piano interlude provides some refreshment before a return to form.
A superb closing statement, Book of the Fallen is the longest musical entry and singlehandedly demonstrates Caladan Brood‘s aptitude for masterful, ekphrastic lyricism and intelligent framing of different ideas so the listener is enticed and continuously drawn in:
“Emerald hills, sparking seas
Fade to distant memory
Horizons blaze in foreign land
Ochre seas of scorching sand”
The coda gains speed, pushing forward at a commanding battle march of 110bpm, matching the general flow between Book of the Fallen‘s quickest tempo and drawling 55pm verses of grief. Caladan Brood speaks in pesante, stretching the dough of the universe along with its ominous warnings out to its natural conclusion — burning pyres fashioned by mortal hands, hearts lusting for the war that spells inevitable destruction. For a debut album, this is an impressive feat of maturity and originality that’ll be difficult to top.
Echoes of Battle is available through Nuclear Blast for €14.99. If you dig this kind of sound, I’d also recommend giving The Force Of The Ancient Land by Eldamar a listen. Other fans have also likened Caladan Brood‘s work to Summoning.
Verdict: Platinum. Ethereal, sublime and nuanced compositions of pathos and insight.
Social media: Bandcamp
REPLAY VALUE: ★★★★☆
Rating system Wood: 0-5, Bonze: 6-9, Silver: 10-14, Gold: 15-19, Platinum: 20-24, Diamond: 25