German metalcore stalwarts, Caliban, are the Teutonic Hatebreed. With eleven albums under their belt since their formation in 1997, they’ve shared stages with legends in the hardcore and metal scenes, including Kreator, Earth Crisis and Machine Head. They also enjoyed a three-album stint on Roadrunner Records before moving to their current home at Century Media in 2009. These days only Andreas Dörner (lead vocals) and Marc Görtz (lead guitar) remain as original members, but the persistent demands from their fanbase for a German-language record persuaded them to finally acquiesce this year. The result is Zeitgeister, a retrospective collection of songs in their native tongue re-imagined from old classics and forgotten live gems.
You’re right to be sceptical of albums that rework old songs with new song titles and better production, not to mention new riffs and deviations from the original structures. If you’re unfamiliar with Caliban, it won’t matter too much. ‘Trauma’ is a re-interpretation of ‘Arena of Concealment’ from 1999’s A Small Boy and a Grey Heaven and comes to life with the added aggression of Matthi from Belgian beatdown band, Nasty. Here we get everything we want from a metallic hardcore ambush – ferocious vocals, chugging guitars, double-kick drum grooves and a storming breakdown at 02:39 seconds. Follow-up, ‘Herz,’ builds on ‘I Will Never Let You Down’ from 2007’s The Awakening LP and still sounds like it’s from the mid-2000s but with the addition of a djent riff and the type of melodic chorus that spawned the deathcore genre as a reaction to the more commercial direction of metalcore at the time. They don’t always hit the mark, despite the guttural genius of the German language. ‘Ausbruch nach Innen’ is like a monstrous version of Linkin Park but suffers from too many stop-start breakdowns aimed at the mosh pit. ‘Feuer, zieh’ mit mir’ is much better – all sixteenth notes and chugs with shoulder-swaying grooves and a surprise deathcore ending. This is more like it.
Unfortunately, the usual culprit spoiling the music is the obligatory clean chorus that leaves many people wondering if metalcore has a credible future. ‘Mein Inferno’ reminds you that the attempt at an anthem on 2004’s ‘My Little Secret’ from The Opposite from Within LP falters because it relies too much on a melodic respite when your only thought is to windmill your way through a crowd. But that does not mean Caliban hold back on their trademark aggression. Not at all. The new version of ‘Intoleranz’ is a blast of eerie backwards keyboard recordings and crunchy guitars with Andreas Dörner in fine form raging into the microphone. We have much encouragement for the future with the one new track on the album ending the record in style. ‘nICHTs’ employs a rumbling bass and atonal chord shapes to accentuate the heavy Gojira groove and fires through a chorus that would make August Burns Red proud. Old and new fans will find common cause in this composition.
A retrospective reworking of old songs never strikes the right chord with this reviewer. Adding German lyrics in place of English ones is an imaginative and welcome idea, but the fact this is a ‘best of’ in all but name downgrades it in comparison to the band’s original studio releases. Die-hard fans will enjoy this, but new ones will wonder what all the fuss is about.
Release Date: 14/05/2021
Record Label: Century Media Records
Standout tracks: Trauma; Feuer, zieh’ mit mir; Intoleranz
Suggested Further Listening: Hatebreed – The Rise of Brutality (2003), Nasty – Menace (2020), Earth Crisis – Breed the Killers (1998)