By now, Caliban have it down to an absolute science. Through an almost 10-year career, they’ve released the same exact album more five times. Kudos to them, I suppose, for being able to conduct their business that way and still get labels to release it and people to buy it. To their credit, they were one of the forebearers to the European-influenced metalcore that’s so prevalent today, but to their lack thereof, they’re still not able to inject any semblance of originality into what they’ve done so many times before.
They say that familiarity breeds contempt, and while that may be true, it also breeds complacency. A complacency at the sound and artistic direction that Caliban have firmly entrenched themselves in, seemingly with no will to change any of that. To make a long story short -- they’re in a rut.
The only real mark at “progression,” though I’d argue for it being a step in the opposite direction, is the injection of more melodic elements to each of the album's 12 tracks. “It’s Our Burden to Bleed” slows down the dominant sounds of guitar solos and heavy riffing to allow for a sung chorus that does not suit their sound at all. I realize this is the trend of the past few years, but the fact of the matter is nine times out of ten it sounds horribly contrived, and this isn’t the one out of ten. They were never terribly inventive, but at least when the bad singing didn’t permeate the music of which they had an unforgivingly hard sound, it was simply something you could count on. So the sad nature of this “progression” has relegated them to a formula that mucks up any momentum gained from the track prior.
This is evidenced better by the following track, “Nothing Is Forever,” than anywhere else on the record. It starts off well enough, or at least, like Caliban enough to mask the unfortunate nature of what’s to follow. The dynamic riffs and pounding drums are as fluid here as anywhere else on the record, and the vocals are as strong and full as they’ve been in years. Whether raspy or crystal clear, the ferocious screams work well in relation to the music. And then...there’s the chorus. Caliban do the token slowdown-to-cleanly-plucked-riffs, before the sung chorus is delivered over some quick but mostly docile riffs. All the bite they had before this point has been erased by the same poorly conceived structure that ruins several other songs on the album. If they wanted to branch out and diversify, this was certainly not the way to go about it.
For every moment of raw power and unrelenting aggression, there’s one of complacency to match. Caliban went from being comfortable in their own shoes, boring as it might have become, to being uncomfortable in somebody else's. This is the kind of album I’d expect from a hollow band riding the trend that a band like Caliban set up years ago. I’d have gladly settled for another retread metal record if it meant that none of the vapid singing would be included, but alas, that was their “artistic direction.”
I guess such is “progression,” if that’s what they’re calling it these days.