[dropcap style=”font-size:100px; color:#992211;”]T[/dropcap]here is a strong hint of nostalgia in this batch of metal reviews – and by that, I mean I am now entering my dotage.
Take the new album by one of the few non-wank metalcore bands, Germany’s very own Caliban. I interviewed their guitarist, Marc Gortz on their tour bus waaaa-aaaa-aaaay back in 2004, when Mastodons roamed the Earth and a house still only cost half a million pounds.
The interview went well, but was mainly notable for a sudden cameo care of drummer Corey Pierce from God Forbid, who emerged from the darkness like some umbral assassin, gave Marc some money he was owed, and then merged once more with the gloom.
The following gig that night had Caliban commanding a full-on wall of death in the pit, and so I was delighted to watch a whole generation of 14 year old Kerrang! readers stripped to the waist and engendering full-on brain damage as they stomped themselves and each other to pulp. Happy days.
Caliban’s new album, Ghost Empire, is a reminder of why they were one of only a handful of metalcore bands you could take seriously, mainly because they could and still can actually write a good riff or 30. The consistency runs through the album like a river of molten lead, with terrifyingly precise hooks, face punching breakdowns and a precision that belies the yoof-friendly stomp of the enterprise.
True, their sound has not evolved one jot since those halcyon days of ’04 (though it’s telling that they’ve long since told label Roadrunner to piss off in favour of Century Media) , but really there’s no need for them to evolve – it’s never sounded tired and never will. “Ghost Empire” simply marks the point where Caliban joined metal’s veteran brotherhood, and is none the worse for it.
Sadly, I can’t really say the same for the new Slough Feg album, Digital Resistance.[quote]a love letter to the band’s nerdy
lust for comics, RPGs, crap films,
not washing much until your
girlfriend complains (allegedly) and
even the whole notion of heavy metal
itself[/quote]If we turn back time even further, back to 2001 when I still had something approaching optimism and young people were still offered as sacrifices to the Bull of Minos, Californian crew Slough Feg (then still The Lord Weird Slough Feg, because back then being concise was only for false metal bands like Limp Bizkit) released an absolute storming album called Down Among The Dead Men.
It was simply amazing, with 13 astounding tracks, each capable of holding up an album on their own but yet all somehow housed on one humble CD. Listen to tracks like “Fergus Mac Roich”, “Troll Pack” and “Traders and Gunboats” and then ask yourself if Iron Maiden were ever that good for even a quarter of an album.
As a final gesture of awesomeness the band then finished off with another barnstormer called “Death Machine”, a tribute to all the cheap and cheerful tat fired out by B-move mogul Roger Corman. In fact, the whole album was a love letter to the band’s nerdy lust for comics, RPGs, crap films, not washing much until your girlfriend complains (allegedly) and even the whole notion of heavy metal itself. It remains one of the truly great metal albums of all time, a veritable celebration of life itself.
But the problem with a band blowing its creative wad on one album is that sometimes it burns itself out. Slough Feg has never reached those giddying heights since, and while Digital Resistance has a polish and precision most acts would kill for, there’s an essential lifelessness to it, like the band knows how to write a song but can’t breathe life into it.
The end result is a strangely deathless and tired affair, like all the components for greatness are there except for that tiny, essential spark of genius and manic energy. Sometimes you’ve just got to know when to quit….
.…And yet there are times when you never should. A case in point is the new album by Norwegian blackened thrashers Nocturnal Breed, Napalm Nights. The overall tone is a glorious mash-up of Marduk’s ever-so-slightly dodgy panzer fixation and Sodom at its most spiky, which is fitting as the vocalist sounds like Tom Angelripper and Lemmy have sired a bronchial talking Alsatian and booked it some time in a recording studio.
There is no great moment of originality, no revelation of innovation or cutting edge flourishes. This is just enjoyable, catchy, unashamedly braindead metal with songs like “The Bitch of Buchenwald” and “Under the Whip” setting the (low) tone with glee and tossing raw meat at the sleeveless denim jacket and Kreator patch-wearing crowd like it’s feeding time at a Danish zoo and someone’s just shot a surplus giraffe.
It’s immature, it’s juvenile and it will never, ever grow up. Which, when you think about it, is a sign of maturity.
Only kids obsess with being grown up, after all.
Alexander Hay is a writer and polemicist based online and in print.