Album Review: Caliban - Ghost Empire
Every genre goes through fallow periods, where the bit hits stop coming, and eventually people stop paying attention. After years of being one of the most visible forms of metal, metalcore had found itself in one of those valleys, with declining interest in the bands that were still waving the flag proudly. Last year, however, metalcore got a welcome surprise in he form of a reunited Killswitch Engage, which not only reminded people that metalcore was still around, but put out a legitimately great record. They sparked a rekindled interest in the music, which benefits bands like Caliban, who haven't been able to keep the genre atop the mountain. Not that I'm blaming Caliban, or anyone in particular, for the natural apathy that sets in once a genre reaches the saturation point.
Caliban isn't playing the same old metalcore that's been around for so long, they manage to bring an approach that is different than the stereotype. Opener “King” starts off havinv more in common with Meshuggah than Killswitch Engage, with the same spongy guitar tone and angular riffing the Swedes have pioneered. The song still shifts gears into the mandatory clean chorus, which is where the familiarity returns.
The idea of taking the two elements of metalcore to their extremes is one I can appreciate, and could very well make for an interesting experiment. I would be inclined to think it would wind up sounding not all that far removed from the type of music Scar Symmetry plays, but with a different flair. I'd gladly take that approach over what Caliban does here, which is merely tilt the balance further towards the harsher aspects. Those parts of the songs are heavier than most metalcore, borrowing from the various strains of death metal, often being quite relentless. That would be fine if the choruses were big enough to support that kind of music, but Caliban falls short in that regard.
Writing vocal lines is the Achilles heal of too many metal bands to count. I can't recall how many promising bands have been ruined by a vocalist who isn't the least bit interesting, and while Caliban isn't that bad, they don't produce the kind of rousing choruses that made metalcore palatable to the mainstream audience. “Nebel” comes closest to being what I expect, maybe because it is the lone song sung in the band's native language.
On a perfunctory level, there is nothing wrong with “Ghost Empire”. It's a solid metalcore album, but it doesn't do anything to make it stand out from the pack. Last year's Killswitch Engage record did, not just because of the attention they garnered with their reunion, but because the record they made was filled with solid hooks and memorable songs. Bands like Caliban are great at matching the fury and the sound, but don't display the same songwriting chops.
If Caliban was a band just starting out, I would say “Ghost Empire” is a solid starting point, and that a little bit of help sharpening the songwriting could lead to something great. But with them so far into their career, they are what they will always be, and “Ghost Empire” is another in a long line of good, but rather forgettable, albums.