Review Summary: Imagine if William Wallace had made a metal album. This would be it.
Suidakra is Arkadius backwards. Pretty neat, huh? So after my astonishment I googled the word ‘Arkadius’, and found out that it’s the name of a Polish fashion designer. Wait, what? That can’t be right. So I continued my search. On further inspection, I realized that Arkadius is the name of the harsh vocalist/guitarist of the band. That’s much better. Here’s another cool fact about Suidakra for you: they formed in 1994, released a demo in 1995, and then a total of 8 albums between 1997 and 2006. That’s almost an album every year, and if any of them are as good as the last release, then I’ve truly found an amazing band. Caledonia is the name of their last release, unleashed upon us in November of 2006. I actually hadn’t heard of this band until a few months ago, and I’m astounded to why. Combining melodic death metal with folk and Celtic music, they have a truly unique sound. I have never listened to an album quite like Caledonia. I say ‘melodic death’ with caution though, as Caledonia has a lot more of the ‘melodic’ rather than the ‘death’. The closest thing to death metal on this album is the harsh vocals, but they are firstly not very harsh, and secondly they are not more frequent than the clean vocals. This probably has to do with the fact that there are two vocalists, Arkadius doing the harsh and the other guitarist Marcel Schoenen doing the clean. This makes it very balanced, vocally. It’s also hard to distinguish between the two vocalists; you could get away thinking the same person did the vocals for the entire album.
Upon first listening to Caledonia, the Celtic influence was immediately apparent. Even within the first 15 seconds of the album, we’re treated to storm-soaked, wailing bagpipes, before a small acoustic interlude paves the way for the beginning of the epic Highland Hills. A very Celtic sounding melodic lead guitar plays over rolling drums, and sets the scene for the entire album. As opposed to actual riffs, the songs are all very lead guitar based, somewhat similar to the style of The Gallery from Dark Tranquillity. Other than that, there is a great deal of acoustic songs and passages, such as The Ember Died (Part 2). It’s a beautiful song which sounds very much like a traditional Celtic acoustic piece. Marcel even sounds Scottish on it.
Travail´s turn brang me tae many a place
An´ all this wimplen´ way
Yont the lee lang nicht
Oh I mind on the days lang begane
I don’t doubt that Marcel went out of his way to put on the Scottish accent, and this might lead to some people thinking it’s a lame idea, but I thought it was done well.
The vocals are quite varied, and very much dependant on the music that is behind it. The Ember Died (Part 2) has very soft vocals, melodic and somber. Other than that, the vocals switch between a forceful yet melodic shout, and then to the harsh vocals, which are sort of mid to high pitched and very well-done. The closest comparison I could think of for the harsh vocals was Anders Fridén on Whoracle, although I think Arkadius is much better than Fridén (I’m not a fan of Fridén). None of the vocal styles really dominates, which adds to the diversity of the album. Some of the highlights of the album are when both vocalists sing together, such as on the track Forth-Clyde.
I had known the band originated in Germany before I listened to them, but I was surprised at how much of a Celtic influence was in their music. One could easily think of the band to be from Scotland. Even the lyrical themes surrounding the album are completely associated with Scottish history. Taken from a review on Metal Observer, ‘…[Caledonia is] a concept album about the Picts, a tribe that had inhabited what is now Scotland, and their fight against the oncoming Roman legions…’ (http://www.metal-observer.com/articles.php?lid=1&sid=1&id=11507). I’m curious as to why this band of Germans has such a fascination with Scottish history. Nonetheless, they do a very convincing job. The lyrical style is similar to that of Amon Amarth, telling the story through verses of honour, glory, and battle.
It's slowly coming into sight
I prepared to fight
With giant leaps it came upon me
To chain my body
To blaze a trail
Through my valour
To take my gods and my freedom away
The musicianship on the album is very strong; each member provides a unique sound to the overall style. The rhythm section is very well-done, especially the drums, which are both varied and inventive. The bass is not drowned out, and is audible throughout the album. As mentioned before, the album uses a forceful lead guitar more so than standard melodic death riffs. This is not to say there aren’t any in the album, the start of Forth-Clyde is very typical melodic death. Nonetheless, the guitars shine on the album. Each melody is very appealing, and all of them have that Celtic touch which makes this album very worthwhile to listen to.
Furthermore, I thought that the production on the album was very nicely done too, with each instrument and the vocals being readily audible in the mix. The one complaint I have is that there are some sections where the guitar could have been made a little louder, as the bass and drums, especially the bass, take the emphasis away from the guitar melodies. Still, that’s a minor fault. Overall the production suited the instruments nicely.
I enjoyed Caledonia very much. It isn’t groundbreaking, but I thought it was excellent. This may be due to a soft spot I have for Celtic music, or because Suidakra are different than a lot of bands I have been listening to lately. However, they deserve all four stars I’ve given. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes The Pogues, The Dropkick Murphys, Celtic music, Amon Amarth, or melodic death in general. Plus, the album artwork is very cool :).