“This is it, my apocalypse,” scream-sings Caliban frontman Andreas Dörner during “Wolves and Rats,” just one of the veteran metal band’s killer — and brutal — new songs. It’s hard to believe, but the German metal outfit has been around for over sixteen years now. I kid you not. They were formed in Hattingen, Germany — under the name Never Again — way back in 1997, long before I ever heard of them. To tell you the truth, I only very recently learned of their existence. To that end, they might very well be metal’s best kept secret. Which is a pity because, let me tell you, they’re better than most of their peers. Much, much better. Every song on their red hot new album, Ghost Empire, blows the fucking fish out of the water. And it’s such a colorful album. Take the song “nebel,” for example. It starts off with Andreas screaming his ass off. Vicious as hell. But then Denis Schmidt sings the chorus, delivering not only clean but exceptionally melodic vocals. There are AOR bands on Frontiers that aren’t nearly so beautifully melodic. And yet there’s Denis and his perfect voice, practically the exact opposite of Andreas’ voice, which is raw — wholly rough around the edges — calling to mind singers like In Flames’ Anders Fridén or even Korn’s Jonathan Davis. And, speaking of Korn, there are times when Caliban’s bone-crushing sound is a bit nu metal, particularly in terms of the caustic — but well-textured — guitar work, but more often than not I would liken them to metalcore, albeit with dark shadows of death metal.
My favorite song on Ghost Empire is “I Am Rebellion,” which is like an audible, atmospheric nervous breakdown during the verses and an entirely uplifting tune during its gorgeous chorus. There are a lot of bands today that alternate between gritty vocals and clean vocals, but often the transitions between the two styles within their songs feel forced, like they’re just throwing in the clean vocals sporadically to make themselves seem diverse or to sound trendy. But in Caliban’s case, the songs are expertly crafted and the transitions always feel natural. Also, with most bands using clean vocals, you get the feeling that the clean vocals aren’t as important to the band, that they’ve put in far less effort when writing the lyrics for those parts as compared to the rest of their songs. Not so with Caliban. With a lot of the songs on Ghost Empire, one gets the feeling that they actually started with a melodic chorus and wrote the menacing as hell verses later. And so you come away from listening to the album with a sense of disbelief because your ears can’t believe that such a heavy band is using clean vocals so masterfully.
The other mind-blowing element to Caliban’s music would have to be their incredible breakdowns, which tend to leave one’s head spinning because they’re so technically dazzling and heavy-hitting. The previously-mentioned “nebel” in particular has a teeth-shattering breakdown that almost sounds like a machine gun firing three bullets per second. There’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide when that happens and you tend not to see these breakdowns coming. “I Am Ghost” has some monstrous breakdowns that you’ll want to applaud as well. Just don’t expect the band to wait around for your applause. These cats would seem to make music for the sheer joy of it — or for the cathartic element to writing music — with complete ambivalence to what so-called critics like myself have to say about it. Which makes them that much better artists, actually, because the worst thing a band can do is worry about how their songs are going to be perceived. “Bow down and hail to the king,” Andreas screams during opener “King.” “I don’t care what people think / Bow down with your face in the mud / I’m larger than life, I don’t give a fuck.” Cheers to that!