As 2016 draws its first breaths, it’s clear retro metal is here to stay. With throwback acts like The Night Flight Orchestra appearing in various AMG year end lists and the utter debacle of White Wizzard scoring a coveted 5.0, the battle is all but over and we must accept our olde timey overlords’ authoritah. Cauldron is part of that conquering force and along with contemporaries like Enforcer, Wolf and High Spirits, they seek to compel a return to the simple days of early ’80s metal. On their fourth album, In Ruin, they’ve kept things particularly rudimentary and direct, striving to rock your socks off with a stripped down proto-metal sound based in the early days of the NWoBHM. It’s easy to listen to, digest and like, and while it certainly ain’t Steven Wilson or Opeth, it’s definitely catchy, fun and the perfect soundtrack to beers, other beers and the odd shot or two (also beers).
Much like High Spirits, Cauldron has developed a very basic, bare bones retro style, and with nary a frill to be found, all the spotlight is on the songs themselves. Luckily, they’ve always shown a knack for writing punchy, hooky little tunes with a foot in metal and hard rock, not unlike early Raven or Diamond Head. Opener “No Return/In Ruin” is the quintessential Cauldron song with a simple, but catchy, riff and the oddly soothing hard rock vocals of Jason Decay (ex-Thor, ex-Goat Horn). You grasp all the song has to offer instantly, but it keeps you sticking around because it’s so light, airy and bouncy and the little forays into speed metal are a sweet touch. The ’80s flavored guitar-work from Ian Chains (ex-Thor, ex-Striker) and Myles Deck adds an extra layer of cool and you end up with a very accessible dose of old school metal.
And that’s how the entire album plays out over the nine rocking tunes. “Empress” is a standout due to its Cirith Ungol styled riffing, doomy tone and catchy chorus, and “Burning at Both Ends” provides zippy, aggressive riffing that reminds me a lot of the early Obsession material. The riffy “Hold Your Fire” is a tasty number and “Santa Mira” offers a exuberantly rocking ride with a memorable, happy-sounding chorus. “Corridors of Dust” sounds a lot like Ozzy‘s “Over the Mountains” and the token instrumental “Delusive Serenade” mines the same metal mountain the early Metallica instruments like “The Call of Ktulu” and “Orion” once did.
At 42 minutes, In Ruin is just the right length, the songs are all fairly short and things end long before fatigue can set in. With no weak song in the bunch, In Ruin is the best Cauldron record to date, ideal for blasting out of the car stereo during a summer drive. It’s brainless, but so catchy and fist raising, you can overlook the lack of high brow appeal.
The Cauldron template makes equal use of riff and vocal hooks, and the guitar duo of Chains and Deck hold up their end admirably. Every song features one or two basic but engaging riffs you’ll swear you heard someplace before and liked, and here they are again! They also pull out some killer harmonies and sweet solos to complete the sale. Jason Decay’s voice is like a mix of Def Lepard‘s Joe Elliot and Chris Black (High Spirits, Dawnbringer) which means you either love or hate his semi-crooning. I enjoy it and he’s quite adept at crafting memorable vocal patterns even on really basic song structures. He’s not a bad bassist either and you can often hear his plucking and thumping in the mix.
So what are the downsides? Well, as with past outings, the mega-simplistic material is definitely catchy out of the box, but it might not have long legs for all listeners. I’ve found I played their older platters intensely for a week or so then moved on and never went back. This may be their best work yet, but it’s hard to say how long it will hold my interest.
While I’d take a High Spirits platter over these guys most days, Cauldron stepped up their game on In Ruin and in the process delivered a record full of wicked riffs and kick ass melodies. If this dropped in May instead of January, it would likely be my “Go To” summer drinking companion. Regardless of the season, retro metal isn’t going away so you might as well enjoy the good stuff. This is your ticket to rock hard and ride free in 2016. Go Canada!