Cailleach Calling – Dreams of Fragmentation

When an experienced musician, or musicians, begins a new project, expectation is a tricky part of the equation. After all, a new project is a new project, with all the bumps, twists, and booby traps associated with starting something new, regardless of the experience of its creator. I muse on this because Dreams of Fragmentation, our super-atmospheric black metal album for the day, is the debut full-length for Cailleach Calling, which itself is formed of Tony Thomas and Chelsea Murphy of Dawn of Ouroboros, whose debut full-length floored the Master of Muppets and left a lasting impression on a good number of you, alongside Yurii Kononov, formerly of White Ward. And yet, within the first moments of Dreams of Fragmentation, it becomes abundantly clear that Cailleach Calling is something very different. Different good? Or different not-good?

Let’s start with the style. Dreams of Fragmentation offers a cross between ambient music and black metal that manifests as heavily atmospheric, so much so that the “black metal” feels at times like an afterthought. While many of the traditional elements of the metal you know and love are present—Murphy’s screams and Kononov’s drumming in particular—they are rather faded in the mix, leaving Thomas’s synths and guitars to do most of the lifting. In a track like “Phosphenic Array,” the most metal of the bunch, this makes for an interesting experience, where the constant blast beats are almost like texture, rather than power, and the focus rests largely on the ethereal strings and synths in the foreground. It almost is like ambient music at times, except there’s shrieking and tremolos there too. It’s unmistakably a metal album, but if your expectations are for standard or symphonic black metal fare, you’ll almost certainly be disappointed.

As a result, it’s the celestial theme that does the most to define what Cailleach Calling seem to be aiming for on Dreams of Fragmentation. “Cascading Waves,” the album’s fifteen-minute-long centerpiece, leans fully into the theme, with spoken word passages, clean singing, vicious screams, and a variety of otherworldly ambiences designed to transport the listener somewhere far, far away. This is both a strength and a weakness for the album. On one hand, it’s consistent; this is synth-driven, not-too-heavy, reasonably straightforward black metal. On the other hand, it isn’t very dynamic. At times, it feels like the band is depending overmuch on the “shine” of their astral theme to keep the listener engaged. In “Phosphenic Array,” the repetitions are enough that the fills are in many places morph into the most interesting parts of the song. In “Cascading Waves,” I could argue that the opening several minutes, including the slow-spoken poem observing the infinity of creation, would benefit from being cut down. It’s on-theme, but not very impactful. It’s pretty—beautiful, really—but it lacks nuance.

Still, there are pockets of excellence strewn throughout Dreams of Fragmentation, clear indications of talent and vision from Cailleach Calling that are worth paying attention to. Whether singing or screaming, Chelsea Murphy offers a strong vocal performance, and I often wish her vocals were a bit higher in the mix. Tony Thomas is adept as ever at every instrument he brings to the table, and demonstrates a solid affinity for creating cathartic atmospheres. It’s striking a balance between the ambience and the metal that seems to trip up the album on occasion, and yet the potential is unmistakably there. “Bound by Neon” is one of the more balanced tracks on Dreams of Fragmentation, at different points finding cathartic in strong riffs and excellent moments of peaceful symphony. If Cailleach Calling aren’t entirely consistent in their performance, they do successfully convey strong ideas across a reasonably succinct forty minutes.

Cailleach Calling strikes me as a new band still in the process of fully discovering its sound. This makes sense, really—despite the artists’ experiences, Dreams of Fragmentation is stylistically very different from Botanist, Dawn of Ouroboros, or White Ward. I won’t discount the possibility that I’m simply not the intended audience for the product, because I can’t deny the talent or ambition of the group, but I don’t think they’ve realized its potential just yet. Still, I’ll be looking forward to the next Cailleach Calling. It’s got something strong brewing; it just isn’t quite realized here.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Debemur Morti Productions
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 11th, 2022

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