As far as fantasy fiction goes, English author J.R.R Tolkien will always be considered among the true greats. Tolkien’s words have lived on in the hearts of many, inspired a new age of film-making and introduced a fresh generation to the legendary author’s works. But that’s not the only legacy he left.
A pocket of Tolkien-inspired heavy metal has existed for decades – even black metal’s most recognised musician, Varg Vikernes, paid homage to an Orc captain when he used the pseudonym Count Grishnakh in the early ‘90s. But Tolkien’s works really took hold on metal when the likes of Summoning, Isengard, Elffor, Nazgul, Fangorn and Blind Guardian began excavating inspiration from the blackest depths of Moria and finding solace in the tales of hobbits, dwarves and men.
Utah-based Caladan Brood are taking us on an epic journey of fantasy with debut album ‘Echoes Of Battle’, but they certainly don’t harvest their fruit from Fangorn Forest or the White Tree of Gondor. No. Instead, the mysterious duo – comprised of anonymous members known only as Shield Anvil and Mortal Sword – have immersed themselves in the work of Steve Erikson’s ‘Malazan Book Of The Fallen’; an epic fantasy series widely considered to rival Tolkien’s work in its intricate attention to detail and reams of unique fictional characters. In the same way Summoning used their adoration for Tolkien’s work to create some ground-breaking records, Caladan Brood have created a masterpiece of their own, using Erikson’s writings as a thematic base.
It’s not just thematically, but also musically where the comparisons to Summoning are apparent. However, Caladan Brood have perfected a new breed of fantasy metal that makes use of less retro keyboard sounds than Summoning, bringing the sound up to date and creating a fantasy world of its own with more subtle, airy ambience. The duo possess a musical awareness that hears them wield layers of melodic BM riffage whilst remaining in rooted in vast symphonic and folk soundscapes. What makes ‘Echoes Of Battle’ different from your casual folk metal affair is not only its ambition in this sense, but its unpredictability too. Every so often, we’re faced with an unsuspecting and heart-wrenching escape into the fictional lands of Erikson, via some haunting bout of monastery-like choir backed with lavish keyboards on opening ten-minute track ‘City of Azure Fire’ or by the barbarous snarling in the vocal domain and expert solo work on most vicious track of the album, ‘Voice Born Of Stone And Dust’. The experience comes to its spine-tingling peak in ‘To Walk The Ashes Of Dead Empires’ with a crescendo of jagged and distorted yet melodic folk riffs placed beautifully behind the type of symphonic horn-calls that could inspire a cavalry of cowards to a brave death. Of course, unafraid usage of sword-clanging sound effects completes the atmosphere on the title track and the deep folk harmonising and sad trumpet keys of final track ‘Book Of The Fallen’ tops off this masterpiece.
It’s not fair to place Caladan Brood alongside the likes of Ensiferum, Finntroll and Moonsorrow. The Norse feel is there, but it’s spliced with moments of medieval folk and doused in an atmosphere of fantasy. The only way Caladan Brood can improve is by the means in which they deliver their music. Whilst it’s not really a downfall, it would be brilliant to hear Caladan Brood with the backing of live percussion, as opposed to the keyboard drums. Even the addition of a grand timpani drum would perhaps elevate the atmosphere to more fantastical heights.
The hardest part is done; the ideas are most certainly there and what these two unknown Americans have conjured in ‘Echoes Of Battle’ is genius.