One of the key elements of true artistry is juxtaposition. The simplest example one could give of this, from the visual perspective, is the process of using black and white with one another to create countless emotions displayed through different shades of grey. Although this style of imagery may be referred to as “black and white,” the grays are the finished product we take in. Let’s look at two examples:
This is a generic stencil of a generic person to do a stencil of. Most likely simplified from a photograph, this stencil shows no true mixing of black and white, yet, all one really sees is Marilyn. Thus, the artist has created a portrait without even mixing black and white, but rather by strategically juxtaposing them to establish an end result.
Aside from one lucky dude, this artist shows how more emotion and detail can be added through mixing black and white oils on white canvas. Although the paint was not necessarily mixed on the canvas itself, pure black and white were the only paints used here.
What does all this have to do with heavy metal? Or better yet, why mention it in regards to Echoes of Battle, the completely-out-of-nowhere debut album from Salt Lake City’s Caladan Brood? To begin with, the words “they sound like Summoning” are not adequate, nor are they entirely accurate. More importantly though, this is one of the first albums in a very long time that showed me a glimpse, even if only a slight one, of what music — of what heavy metal — is capable of. In order to explain what I mean, I’m going to have to bore you with one of my very own musical (mis)adventures.
According to those who have spent time in the Rocky Mountains, The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest is where civilization meets the wild. Having often vacationed in these parts, these snowy mountains were just one of those places I enjoyed listening to metal, especially in my younger years. Every sincere fan of metal has a special place within which they enjoy listening to their favorite albums. For me, wandering around in the moonlight, or laying in four feet of untouched-and-freshly-fallen snow among wild animals and pine trees that reached for the night sky was just where I wanted to be when the sounds of Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss, or The Somberlain, came pummeling through my headphones. After a night of listening to music in such a surreal setting I would return home feeling like I had just conquered the world, all I could do was grin and think: Never have I felt so alive.
Fast forward twelve-or-so hours. I’m driving down Little Cottonwood Canyon alone in a rickety Jeep Grand Wagoneer, listening to the Led Zeppelin tape that has been stuck in the player for years, remembering how I got into heavy metal in the first place. I’m dressed nicely now — with no pentagram-on-back and cleanly shaven, ready to listen to one of the most beautiful embodiments of music that has ever existed, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Although a bit antiquated in its instrumentation and song selection, no honest person should feel it necessary to deny the power and sheer beauty of souring vocals such as these. All kinds of music have brought me to tears, but none quite like the way this group has. And all I can do is dry my face and think: Never have I felt so alive*.
Caladan Brood isn’t quite a band that takes the lightest-of-the-light and the darkest-of-the-dark and juxtaposes them, and perhaps the group doesn’t possess the ability to do so entirely, but they do give the listener a glimpse into what this clash of emotions could be like. In the spiritual or metaphysical sense, or even in the simplest sense of metal-categorization, Caladan Brood definitely possesses more light than it does darkness (the album cover of Echoes of Battle is a good visual reference point). Perhaps I’m unfarily stereotyping because of where the band is from (and because the album’s vocal harmonizing sounds like it’s good enough to fit right in with MO-TAB), but something tells me Caladan Brood could have just as easily selected Helaman and his two thousand stripling warriors or Captain Moroni as lyrical topics as opposed to Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Either way, hooray that it’s not more generic Tolkien worship, right? Now onward to more important things…
What is the foundation of the music? While there’s certainly no doubt that members Shield Anvil and Mortal Sword are influenced by a fair amount of black metal, the exclusivity of said influence is a bit misleading. A better way of saying “epic, melodic, atmospheric folkened black metal” is probably just going with a much simpler term: medieval. The drums set a nice steady pace that ranges from a slow march to a slightly faster march, without ever going into a full on sprint-to-the-finish. Much like the group’s chief European counterpart (yes, Caladan Brood does draw some influences from Summoning), the album’s atmosphere is ladened by keyboard effects and melodies, and further built up by constant tremolo-ing that gently fluctuates alongside the beat of the drums. And yes, Echoes of Battle predominantly features shrieking, harsh vocals that comprise what are its “darkest” characteristics.
And what of the highs? Let’s think of some classic examples of choral vocals in folk-influenced metal. Bathory’s “Twilight of the Gods” started things off on a great note, didn’t it? Quorthon indeed paved the road for the wonderfully bombastic approaches of Moonsorrow and Ensiferum, best demonstrated on Kivenkantaja and From Afar, respectively. If the man was alive, he’d probably shit his pants knowing he laid the foundation for the climaxes of “Raunioilla” or “Heathen Throne.” Even more consistently than its presumed influences, Echoes of Battle absolutely soars during its perfect choral outbursts. With the help of guest vocalist Ryan Hunter, who also engineered, mixed and mastered the album, Caladan Brood has belted enough stanzas to help metal climb to even greater heights. And last but not least, guitarist Leeland Campana of Salt Lake’s Visigoth makes two tremendous solo appearances on “Wild Autumn Wind” and “A Voice Born of Stone and Dust,” which add a very classic, heavy metal finishing touch on what is the best debut the world will most likely hear this year.
So what are we left with? Aside from an album that’s sure to get many, many spins from fans of its style, Caladan Brood has given us a peak of something far greater: the possibility of a band possessing, understanding and embracing both the light and the darkness, and using them to construct art. While many would look at a 24-hour period of musical adventure such as the one I’ve shared above and see nothing but paradoxes, I look at it and see a work of art that I’ve just created for myself. And ultimately, experiences such as these are what wield us. We all possess darkness and light. It’s what we use them for that paint the pictures that are to become our character. That is juxtaposition, and thanks to Caladan Brood, my understanding of this has become crystal clear.