Review of Echoes Of Battle by Caladan Brood

Band: Caladan Brood
Album: Echoes Of Battle
Release Date: 15 February 2013
Record Label: Northern Silence Productions
Buy from Bandcamp (digital) for $10: Here
Buy from Storenvy (CD or vinyl): Here (temporarily sold out)

Cover of Echoes Of Battle by Caladan Brood

We don’t usually cover albums from bands outside the greater DC area but to end 2013 I gave my album reviewers the chance to write about their favorite album of the year that they felt deserved more attention. Tal has done a great job relating how one of her favorite albums this year influenced her in the following review of Echoes Of Battle by Caladan Brood. You can always get more of Tal’s writing on her blog In My Winter Castle. I posted Grimy Grant’s choice, On The Edge by Volture, earlier today and you can read that post here.

In addition to spouting my opinions about metal (and sometimes other music), I also write fiction, generally of the wilderness-trekking, cavalry-charging, fireball-lobbing, epic clash of good and evil variety, and that metal in its various forms serves as inspiration for pretty much every scene I write (the good scenes, anyway). This fall, I embarked on a dark post-apocalyptic fantasy novel, and ended up wading into the marshes of black metal (fairly unfamiliar to me) to see what I could find that was suitably dark and fantastic enough to inspire my story. After struggling with the likes of Hollenthon (too grandiose) and Morgul (too creepy), I finally found what I was looking for in Austrian epic black metal band Summoning – and then I discovered newcomer Caladan Brood of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Indeed, I think Caladan Brood has bested Summoning at their own game this year. While songs like “Mirdautas Vras” and “Land of the Dead” off Summoning’s 2006 release Oath Bound fired my imagination, I didn’t find their 2013 release, Old Mornings Dawn, very inspiring. Caladan Brood’s debut album Echoes of Battle, on the other hand, made my heart soar and my fingers fly.

Caladan Brood takes their cue from Summoning’s darkly epic style, with its morose atmospheric guitars, medieval-sounding melodies and peculiarly evil vocals. Like Summoning, Caladan Brood mainly uses a raspy growled vocal style, like some dark creature that crept out of the earth, perhaps a more evil version of the cave-dwelling, croaking creature Gollum from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. But adding to the epic reach of the album, Caladan Brood also uses resounding clean vocals that sound like they could fill a cathedral. Further setting themselves apart from Summoning, Caladan Brood also augments the dark maelstrom of atmospheric guitar with some heavy guitar riffs and wailing guitar solos.

Where Summoning explores Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Caladan Brood takes on a different fantasy universe, the world of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. I must admit I’m not familiar with Erikson’s series – but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the album. The music paints such an epic picture of great cities, sweeping landscapes, huge armies and the devastation they bring, fallen empires and fallen warriors, that for some time I didn’t even need to read the lyrics. The song titles alone are evocative of fantastic images: “City of Azure Fire,” “Wild Autumn Wind,” “To Walk the Ashes of Dead Empires.”

Amazingly, this debut album from an unknown band topped the release from the masters of the fantasy metal genre. Summoning’s new album sounds a bit monotonous to me, a continuous flow of raspy vocals over a swirl of melodies and ominous guitar, just on the beautiful side of creepy. It’s nice as a non-distracting backdrop, but not much stands out or catches my attention. Echoes of Battle, by contrast, is full of epic moments that injected life into my writing, and should enflame the imagination of any fan of fantasy, whether writer or reader.

My favorite moment is in the second song, the eponymous “Echoes of Battle.” The song is full of epic melodic guitar, but about halfway through, the guitars sweep skyward in wave after wave, and even the rasped vocals seem to reach for the heavens as they lament about “Swords held high to the desert sky at such great a cost / Standards fly above funeral pyres.” It’s impossible not to be caught up in the soaring energy of the song; the brightest moment in my dark novel was brought about by this song, and I still have to stop what I’m doing and wave my fist in somber triumph whenever I hear this song.

The following song, “Wild Autumn Wind,” is driven by a lovely keyboard melody. Even the rasped vocals can’t take away from the beauty of this song. The atmospheric guitars and harsh vocals keep things grim, especially with lyrical themes involving the fleetingness of not just lives but whole civilizations:

“The bones of beasts and the bones of kings
Become dust in the wake of the hymn
Mighty kingdoms rise, but they all will fall
No more than a breath on the wind“

But the keyboard rises above the desolate imagery, giving it a romantic beauty. After all, the rise and fall of mighty kingdoms lie at the heart of every great epic story.

Another favorite moment of mine is at the very end the album, where the choir-like clean vocals urge the warriors ever onward:

“Strap on your shields and raise your banners
Hear the call of raging battle
Beneath a hail of burning arrows
Push ever forward, never surrender
Siege weapons tolling out like thunder
Ripping the city walls asunder
Columns of flame reach ever skyward
Horizons filled with burning pyres”

In general, this final song, “Book of the Fallen,” wraps up the album in a satisfying way – with mournful vocals and dirge-like keyboard, the guitars at times hymnal, at times heavy and atmospheric, bidding farewell and encouraging us onward at the same time. Because for a fantasy writer or reader, the story is never over, but lives on and on in our imaginations; we relive the carnage and remember the fallen, and look forward to the next battle.

Though I started out listening to this album without any knowledge of the story behind it – and even used it to fuel my own, completely unrelated story – now I find I need to read the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Caladan Brood’s take on the story has left me hungry to know more about the world of grandeur, bloodshed, loss and memory that they’ve evoked. I only hope that the books live up to epic yet dark vision they’ve painted with Echoes of Battle.

Echoes of Battle:

Wild Autumn Wind:

Review of On The Edge by Volture

Band: Volture
Album: On The Edge
Release Date: 13 September 2013
Record Label: High Roller Records
Buy from Bandcamp (digital) and name your price: Here
Buy from High Roller Records (CD or vinyl): Here

Cover of On The Edge by Volture

One of the best new things here at DCHM this year has been the addition of two new writers doing album reviews on the site. We try to keep our album reviews focused on local bands, that’s kind of the point of the blog, but for the end of the year I told them both that they could pick any album from 2013, local, national or international, that they thought didn’t get enough attention this year to write a review of. The following is Grimy Grant’s pick for his favorite unsung album of the year, On the Edge by Richmond natives Volture. Of course be sure to follow Grimy Grant on Twitter at @jgrantd if you don’t already and be sure to read Tal’s choice for unnoticed album of 2013, Echoes Of Battle by Caladan Brood, here.

Volture is a band I’ve grown attached to recently. Their loyalty to old-school metal doesn’t stand out much in the crowd of current throwback bands worshipping at the shrines of Raven, Judas Priest, or Motley Crue. What makes them unique to me is their focus on tight, quick hard rock that is good old fashioned fun. Brent Hubbard, the former vocalist for the band, and Jack Bauer, the current lead singer, both seem to be imitating Rob Halford as they belt out tunes referring to motorcycle rides and the deadly Volture – an electric steel bird similar to the one on the cover of the Judas Priest classic album Screaming For Vengeance. A recognizable face in the group is Ryan Waste, lead guitarist for one of Richmond’s major metal bands, Municipal Waste. When I saw Volture play at GWAR-B-Q this year, Ryan Waste seriously plucked his bass and didn’t do the stage banter that he usually does with Municipal Waste vocalist Tony Foresta. Considering the ‘Waste is a huge asset to the RVA music scene, it’s commendable that Ryan Waste sticks to being just a member of the gang in Volture rather than the “star talent.” That could be on purpose since most of Volture’s themes are about being a gang of brothers as well as a band.

On the Edge is the band’s 2013 release and to me it’s the best thing they’ve put out yet because it goes over the top and doesn’t look back. The first track, “On the Edge,” kicks the album off with an image of soldiers “Raging onward / … / taking back what’s ours” and living by the code of “No surrender, no return” to their homes. Nick Poulos and Dave Boyd, the guitarists for the band, shred out a number of quick solos that help energize the song with the kind of speed and excitement of a battle. It’s a thrashy sound that goes overboard and which I really got into from the start. “Ride the Nite” follows immediately with Bauer joyfully singing about “Kick start the weekend / Going for a ride.” It’s a simple lyric but a sincere one sung by Bauer, whose voice doesn’t show any irony. Barry Cover drums a quick, solid beat through both of the first two tracks while Ryan Waste keeps the beat going steady with his bass. Performing classic fantasy themes tied with speed metal may be a bit laughable and tongue-in-cheek when performed today, but it’s pulled off well due to the commitment from the band and their skill.

Simplicity is both an engine for making On the Edge a perfect party album but also teeters on the side of being forgettable. Volture’s main issue is the same as Municipal Waste, Cannabis Corpse, and the other bands under the RVA punk and metal scene: they are consistent, keep their songs simplistic yet fun, and can be taken for granted as just another party band. On the Edge tries to raise the bar a bit in songs such as “Deep Dweller,” where Bauer paints a world of living underground in a post-apocalyptic Earth and surviving on the basics. That’s an interesting twist on the “band of brothers” theme that the album depicts in songs such as “On the Edge” and “Brethren of the Coast” and I like that it’s included as the last track on the album. The song before “Deep Dweller,” “Rock you Hard,” is the most light-hearted song on the album, something that reminds me of Manowar’s “Kings of Metal,” since both boast their respective band’s prowess and skill to their own fans. Volture’s version is overwhelmingly positive and traditional, referring mostly to the power and volume of their music rather than being brutal or overly technical. On the Edge is a great example of a classic metal album keeping it positive, powerful, and most importantly – timeless.

Ride the Nite:

Brethren of the Coast: