Ghost Empire

Written by: AP on 03/02/2014 19:49:38

At 17 years and eight studio albums prior to this latest outing "Ghost Empire", Caliban are one of the most prominent and respected metal bands Germany has to offer outside of the arena league, alongside Heaven Shall Burn. They are nonetheless a band who haven't received much coverage from us, this despite my personal infatuation with their most recent effort "I Am Nemesis" from 2012. Such ignorance must be rectified. Having enjoyed tenures at Lifeforce and Roadrunner prior to signing with Century Media in 2009, not to mention impressive chart placements in Germany, Austria and Switzerland; Caliban's influence on the metalcore genre has obviously not gone unnoticed, and on this ninth effort it isn't difficult to induce the reasons for this.

Although the description monumentally heavy has always been made apt by Caliban's stylistic preferences, there is still a recurring sense of shock when you cue their music at decent volume (I recall especially "Dein R3.ich" off the previous record having this effect on me); opening track "King" introducing here the latest iron fist to your face. The power, density, andintensity of this track is exemplary of the almost ludicrous level of blunt force violence Caliban like to exact, the double pedal onslaught only rarely interrupted by a clean segment. These provide tiny glimmers of respite amidst the suffocating darkness in which "Ghost Empire" is veiled, and were it up to me, they should have been extinguished altogether in order that the chokehold be firmly upheld.

Indeed, the contrast between these brief eruptions of light and the ruling plumes of ash is somehow too grotesque, the sugary nature of guitarist Denis Schmidt's singing often proving more an unwelcome sanctuary for fans of pop-infused stateside metalcore than an interesting dynamic. Caliban excel when they're brutal and unforgiving, and anyone who has borne witness to one of their performances should be inclined to agree with this sentiment. Mind you, the extremity otherwise on display on "Ghost Empire" is not devoid of melody; amidst the drop tuned djent crunch, reminiscent above all of Heart of a Coward, lurks a mist of reverberating, if perpetually morose lead guitar and melancholy orchestral samples akin to those you will find on Bring Me the Horizon's two latest albums.

And when used in a more tempered fashion, Dörner's own excursions into clean territory do intertwine themselves into the songs more acceptably, his strained cries combined with the gang yelled reciprocals of the axe men adding much colour to songs like the bombastic "King", and "Wolves and Rats". This is oddly anthemic stuff, yet of the sort destined to raise a riot in the live setting. These two songs form two pillars of a strong beginning to the album that also comprises "Chaos - Creation"; but the aforementioned issue becomes vivid already with "nebeL", which is a beaming instance of forcing pop sensibilities where they have no place. Its synth backed chorus has that sickening whine to it that used to make Blessthefall in their Craig Mabbit days such an ear sore, and when juxtaposed with drumming, courtesy of Patrick Grün, that has all the semblance of a .50 cal machine gun and guitars, delivered by misters Görtz and Denis Schmidt, that are too keen on the breakdown, the result is schizophrenic - and not in a good way. The same is true of the voluptuously grandiose "Devil's Night" and "Cries and Whispers" (that chorus of "I can't feel my aching heart / Everything is falling apart" is a definite no-no) as well.

Still, discounting the recurrent mishaps, Caliban do have a capacity to avoid most of the clichés when they're firing on all cylinders. It's not genius, but it works. Even in the weaker tracks, such as those outlined in the previous paragraph, there are moments that tempt my curiosity simply by virtue of their brazenness. "Good Man", initiating the proceedings on an acoustic, piano backed note and Görtz's soft singing before nose-diving into neck snapping metallic pummel, is a good example of this, sounding like the non-retarded incestuous child of Parkway Drive and Miss May I. Basic, but effective stuff, and with one of those tempered choruses I mentioned earlier. Perhaps most impressive and daring of all is the hugely BMTH-esque, anguished "I am Rebellion" in which each musician's own ideas are allowed breathing space, resulting in the most rhythmically diverse, textured and inventive piece of music "Ghost Empire" has to offer. I wonder if the echoing "Can you feel my heart?" in the powerful "Who We Are" is a deliberate nod toward those Britons, then?

Needless to say, this is not an otherworldly album. But so far as metalcore goes, it's difficult to find it played with more expertise than here. A thick, yet spacious production worked in by Görtz himself ensures Caliban's music sounds as crushing as it does enormous; and many of the songs, though often subscribing to a rather basic verse-chorus-verse pattern, do well in terms of producing lasting value. A good inclusion on your metalcore shelf, though I fear it may blend in with the Parkway Drives and such already on it in the long run.


Download: King, Chaos - Creation, Wolves and Rats, Good Man, I am Rebellion, Who We Are
For the fans of: Bring Me the Horizon, Heart of a Coward, Miss May I, Parkway Drive
Listen: Facebook

Release date 27.01.2014
Century Media

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