Review Summary: not simply a cheap summoning ripoff.
There's absolutely no doubt that taking such a wide, expansive concept as Steven Erikson's Malazan set of fantasy epics and rendering it in musical form is an incredibly ambitious undertaking. Consider also that this is Caladan Brood's first ever release, clocking in at 71 minutes and you have a band that obviously have their sight set on something massive - perhaps even too far for an inexperienced band to reach. Also consider that to call this project a band is like calling a pen knife a sword - Caladan Brood simply consisting of two musicians with a deep interest in fantasy novels and a slow, epic black metal coated in synths and slow moving, massive soundscapes. Sounding familiar yet? There's no doubt many of you are crying 'Summoning ripoff!' already, and that conclusion isn't without an element of truth.
Okay, more than just an element - they sound exactly
like Summoning. The reverb-laiden drums resounding through misty mountains, the massive sounding tremolo-picking swells of distorted guitar, the early-90's reminiscent MIDI synths that play the majority of the melodies, the mix of choir-like vocals and black metal shrieks and rasps, the works. If you were to tell me this was a Summoning album I'd likely believe you. But consider for a moment that this is a feat in itself and maybe you'll be more inclined to be impressed by this - to this day I can confidently say this is the only worthy immitation of Summoning to date. Many bands have tried and failed - Elffor sounding far too empty and bland, Nazgul simply not capturing the same epic, expansive feel, Avathar sounding far too modern due to the synth tones. Caladan Brood is the only band to get it right in the two decades that Summoning have been making their highly influential and powerful brand of black metal, and considering that Summoning have only recently broke their 7 year silence it's not like this is an over-saturated genre of music. The more the merrier, especially if the quality of the music is this high.
In some ways it even arguably outdoes Summoning, especially in the way the songs are structured. Many of these songs tracks range between 10-15 minutes and considering the idea behind most music this slow and expansive is to lull you into a trance and atmosphere, Caldan Brood's style of songwriting isn't as repetitive as one might think. Where this is neither better nor worse than the repetitive, hypnotic nature of Summoning's music, it certainly makes it a more active listen instead of many of Summoning's songs that often only have a few core melodies to hold it afloat. This isn't 71 minutes of the same phrases repeated over and over, this is a set of constantly moving pieces that are very well put together. Some of the transitions need a bit of work, sounding a bit brash and forced but considering this is a debut album some slip ups are more than forgiveable.
The guitarwork is a much more involving affair, too - where Summoning often stick to very simple riffs buzzing away in the background, Caladan Brood let the guitar do more to make this feel like much more of a metal album. They occasionally utilize some great guitar solos, the solo towards the end of 'Wild Autumn Wind' a particular highlight, and thankfully not an over-used asset. The vocals are very well exected, the prominence of the clean male choir-like vocals are used to very good effect, sounding very similar to the clean vocal work on Gallowbraid's work but far more fitting and huge sounding. They're used commonly but not commonly enough to become an unwelcome gimmick. The screams sound every bit as intense as you'd expect, so much so that you may feel they're out of place initially but you soon come to feel like they're perfectly at home. The drums are an obvious drum machine job but they fit the aesthetic perfectly due to the usage of the very primitive MIDI-sounding synths, almost having a sense of nostalgia resounding through them - not to mention the album in general. The only real downfall for this album is that the ear for timeless, infectious melodies just isn't as strong as in this band as in Summoning. This isn't too problematic though, none of the melodies here are bad. For that matter, often they're still very good.
A third-way through the title track 'Echoes of Battle' having one of the strongest riffs of recent memory, a small midi break being totally interrupted by an absolutely massive tremolo-picked guitar riff that sounds absolutely fantastic. It's worth saying too that the control this band has not to over-use everything is impressive, and when you also consider the length of this album it's almost unreal that these two unknown musicians were able to craft something this well put together. The atmosphere is absolutely fantastic to boot - absolutely nothing sounds phoned in or slapped together as a desperate attempt to cash in on other band's successes.
So, a rip-off? Arguably, but far from a cheap one. In fact it's very easy to go as far as calling this the strongest epic black metal release in recent years. Caladan Brood have crafted an absolutely superb album with an equally as engrossing concept behind it. The atmosphere, pacing and sheer energy behind this album absolutely washes away any kind of reservations of being a simple copy band. It's a great, great journey of an album that goes at lengths to not tire out its welcome and does an admirable job at that and for many reasons it comes with a high recommendation considering the passing of albums like this is a pretty rare affair. Buy with confidence. :]