I don’t know how I get myself into these things sometimes. I reviewed Kaledon‘s 2013 opus, Altor: the King’s Blacksmith for reasons now completely unknown to me and was mightily unimpressed by the third-tier Italian power metal cheese therein. Because I reviewed Altor, I was on the hook for 2014s Antillius: the King of the Light, which was considerably heavier and much better, but still too dairy-intensive for my long-term listening tastes. Now they’re back with a reshuffled lineup including a new singer and set to deliver Carnagus – Emperor of Darkness. This time they’ve retained the heaviness and even dialed it up some for a style that comes across as Gloryhammer under the thrall of Iced Earth‘s Jon Schaffer. That means thick, meaty riffing is as common as foppish harpsichord overweening and bombastic appeals to the elder dragons of astral raves. This makes for some exuberant music and the occasionally unintended guffaw, but hey, it’s Italian power metal and this is what the Roman Empire has been reduced to.
After the legally required generic intro of wind, horns and dramatic chanting, “The Beginning of the Night” slams home harder than you’d expect with sharp, quasi-thrash riffing and a bonus serving of testosterone and cojones. New voice Michele Guaitoli (Overtures) gets to make a first impression and does so ably with a restrained mid-range that’s neither overly shrill or grating. As on all Kaledon albums, the keyboards fight the guitars for every inch of breathing space, conceding nothing while hamfisting everything. Oddly, it all holds together for a respectable ditty with a decent chorus. “Eyes Without Life” keeps the momentum going with a very Blind Guardian-esque dose of busy metal with an expectedly pompous chorus suitable for a Night at the Opera. The 70s space rock keyboards are an odd, out-of-place addition, but I like them because I’m an agent of chaos. “The Evil Witch” rocks a nifty thrash riff and rides it like an armor-plated jet-ski through the treacherous waters of overkill for one of the album’s better cuts, and “The Two Bailouts” is a crunchy anthemic winner despite a title sounding like an anti-Wall Street documentary from 2009.
Most surprising is “Telepathic Messages” where the band partially goes over to melo-death with harsh vocals and extra heavy riffage, at times sounding like recent Kataklysm. They keep the listener off balance with the thrashy “Evil Beheaded” which mixes Testament guitar heroics with Anthrax vocal patterns. Though heavy, both songs maintain just enough power metal fluff so you don’t accidentally swap your pirate shirt for a black tee. By this point the average listener will be looking at his/her speakers and thinking “what the fuck is going on?” and that’s actually pretty cool.
Though I kept waiting for things to go heels to Jesus, they never do and every song is enjoyable in its own right. I’ll even give them props for waiting until the dramatic closer to uncork all the noodly Maiden-isms. They surely must have struggled with that. At a tight 43 minutes, Carnagus blasts by in a hurry and the short song lengths help keep things moving. There may be some grand album concept at play but it’s all elvish to me and you hardly need to follow the story or lyrics to enjoy the wacky and woolly music. The band also saw fit to give the album a proper production with plenty of clarity and space between instruments so every wank can be enjoyed sans a wank detector.
Though Michele Guaitoli is a welcome addition to the band and does a good job, it’s the nutsy-cuckoo guitar vs. keyboard warfare that makes Kaledon fun, and no expense was spared bringing that conflict to a stereo near you. Alex Mele and Tommaso Nemesio can shred like an industrial cheese separator and the addition of heavier riffage only makes their lusty solos stand out more. Paolo Campitelli is a fiend on the keys and he certainly overdoes things, but hey, when in Rome.
Kaledon continue their slow evolution and though this is their 9th album, it sounds to me like they’re just now hitting their prime. The way heavier and somewhat schizophrenic approach here is a welcome revelation and I enjoy all the surprises and WTF? moments the album delivers. Still cheesy enough to cater the LARP guild’s weekend playground kerfuffles, but now heavy enough for meatheads and poser killing Baloff proteges, Carnagus has something for everyone. Not quite essential, but plenty amusing nonetheless.