Caliban are the definition of veterans. They were playing aggressive metalcore in 1999 at the height of nu metal’s dominance. Roadrunner Records saw their potential and snapped them up in 2004 to ride the wave of Killswitch Engage’s surprise commercial success, and Century Media gave them another boost in 2007 by making the Germans one of their flagship European bands. Some of you first came across them in the thank you section of Machine Head’s album sleeve for Through the Ashes of Empire, but this English reviewer has never seen anyone wear a Caliban t-shirt or declare them an essential artist. Unfortunately, you can see why on the band’s thirteenth studio album.
The quintet recorded their latest effort during the Covid-19 lockdown with the use of remote sharing devices and no possibility of face-to-face writing sessions. Maybe this is why Dystopia sounds so stagnant. It starts with enough promise and purpose. The opening title-track comes to life with epic drum accents and crushing guitar chords and switches to a fast stomp of iron-plated hardcore for vocalist, Andreas Dörner, to torment the raspy texture of his throat. A guest appearance from Christoph Wieczorek of Annisokay also adds a predictable but pleasant melody to the chorus. There’s nothing wrong with the cut and thrust of this song, but there’s not much right with it, either. A band of Caliban’s stature should not be plagiarising Architects for inspiration. Nor is it edifying to see them attempt a While She Sleeps/Bring Me the Horizon chorus on ‘Ascent of the Blessed’. This group once toured with Cro-Mags and Biohazard – what happened to them?
Is there anything more damaging to the thrill of a metalcore composition than the ‘clean’ vocal chorus? You know it’s coming on every song, and yet each one seems cheaper than the last. ‘Phantom Pain’ starts with a technical maze of seven-string guitar grooves and threatens to grip you in a chokehold but soon relinquishes its power by whimpering into a monotonous pang of sorrow. Not even the breakdowns can salvage this one, especially not with a chant of “Leave me the fuck alone – Get lost!” Let’s not forget: this band are in their mid-forties. Compare this callow vitriol with modern releases from Cage Fight and Northlane. It’s like putting Limp Bizkit in the same league as Faith No More. If only this was the low point. Instead, we have to sit through the dreary metalcore ballad of ‘Hibernate’ and the plastic extreme metal of ‘Dragon’ to reach the bottom of the pit.
The curious thing is how the huge production and colossal guitar tones have so little impact on the senses. Dörner’s terrifying vocal growls and the murderous metallic hardcore posturing should swipe your head off, but Caliban are too busy chasing the Architects fanbase to stay in one place where they can subjugate you. Only on ‘sWords’ do they deliver a white-hot furnace of sustained aggression, but even this subsists on the repeated phrase of “Spit it Out!” during the beatdown surge. (Isn’t that a Slipknot song?) Those of you that saw the video for the single, ‘VirUS’, might think this judgement harsh, but this track is a rare highlight among a sea of predictability. The best songs on Dystopia are tolerable rather than remarkable.
This LP is a disappointing affair from a band that now seem like nothing more than a legacy artist on the Century Media roster. Caliban play music that trend-chasers abandoned ten years ago. Would they secure a deal with one of the world’s most powerful metal labels if they presented this as their debut album? The answer is no.
Release Date: 22/04/2022
Record Label: Century Media
Standout tracks: Dystopia, sWords, DIVIDED
Suggested Further Listening: Defocus – In the Eye of Death We Are All the Same (2021), Bury Tomorrow – Cannibal (2020), Eyes Wide Open – Through Life and Death (2021)