Cauldron Black Ram – Slaver (2020)REVIEW

A distinct dried and dark crimson nestles in the grooves of his proudly displayed bracteate, gold festooned and hand-polished with proud bird, eight-legged horse and visage large enough to bear a Suebian knot above the ear — Inscribed with ᚨᛚᚢ (“alu”) one hundred times across shield (and skin) with utter devotion to the high of a blood-drunken state, a warrior among thousands more named for kin to a common ancestor descends upon the crumbling Roman state to rip, scour and barbecue. Pirate, barbarian, orc, and vilest slave-driver alike act as brazen life crushing conqueror creed that’d inspire the cave-scrawled yet ever-evolving miscreancy of South Australian black/death trio Cauldron Black Ram. As a freshly skull-shaking death metallic high ‘Slaver’ is the product of decades of insightful experiential tides, a project that’d immediately find a unique voice in the mid-to-late 90’s and bolt forth with calculated innovation and inspirational growth as each release dawned unpredictably. Blackened, sludged-out, thrashing, demented, and obsessed with debauchery, piracy, and barbarism long before the dulled “primitive’ death metal blade was even remotely en vogue the brilliant discography of these Adelaide three finds a wildest new peak this fourth time around.

Formed a little over a year after they’d officially kicked Stargazer into gear, several years after Mournful Congregation had warmed up, and about a year before key members would join Martire all history indicates that Cauldron Black Ram were formed simply for a good fuckin’ time and perhaps as a depository for blackened death metal ideas either too beastly, burly or wrong-vibed for those other outlets. This was also a key period of time where the underground was completely alight with remarkable bands conjoining pure heavy metal influence with extreme metal execution a la Arghoslent, Mi’gauss, and certainly Armoured Angel. On might argue that The Chasm might’ve been the ones to finally figure out a salable item from that murk and for sure the balls-deep underground early releases from Cauldron Black Ram on Weird Truth and (then) fully emerging Blood Harvest took a while longer than many of their peers to catch any major notoriety. Their earliest releases, starting with a still representative demo (‘Demo 1997‘, 1997) that’d translate into the brilliant ‘Skullduggery‘ (2004), already reeked of their signature sound.

I won’t get too hung up on the discography here but that first album was a grand launching point from a bit more directly blackened vantage whilst exploring primitive yet deeply textural death metal guitar riffs set atop a crawling black/death metal beat. Think later Order From Chaos with a healthy dose of Autopsy. What’d really stand out at this point was the battery and that the intricate-but-primal beatings were already characteristic of Esh‘s unique jazz-thrashed drum style. What’d really grabbed me with that first album was the Soilent Green-esque sludge bursts on songs like “Lightning Bolt”, it still offers a sharp exemplar moment from a group that was perhaps more clearly a side-project back in the mid-2000’s. ‘Slubberdegullion‘ (2010) was definitely a more technical, harried and aggressive stance and is assuredly one of the more avant-garde edged releases from the band overall. I became a fan of the band after an online pal recommended tracking down that second album around 2011 or so, after I’d been pouring over how great the second Stargazer record was, for months. Despite leaning hard into their barbarian selves with their third album (‘Stalagmire‘, 2014) and first with compatriot B. Newsome (Mournful Congregation, Road Warrior) was decidedly more “technical”, distinctively cave-minded but far more illustriously detailed and clever than the first two records. Although I’d say ‘Slaver’ is closest kin to ‘Stalagmire’ it is yet a step beyond, ramping up the complex and the clever warping of forms that’d finally begin to garner broader notice of these renowned musician’s no-lesser craft within Cauldron Black Ram.

So, why all the hoopla? Sounds like a butt-head dirtbag death metal gang, eh. For all of the talk of barbarism, piratical shanties, and rumbling groove-ridden sludged black/death tantrums the key to Cauldron Black Ram‘s “it”-factor’d sound stems from a heart of satanic speed metal and a fistful of 80’s death metal combined, compressed and deftly between the colonnades of the last two decades of tasteful-yet-riff driven extreme metal. Well, more simply put — The project persists with a musical identity keen to a myriad of classics and yet remains characteristic enough that it defies outside replication. The doom-tinged triads that open “Flame” unto death rupture rise and fall with the grace of a conductor willing the cataclysm that’d shear-and-shatter the Earth into a million pieces. Scratched-out and speeding riffs akin to ’99 Armoured Angel singe the raw edges of the ~5 minute opener with a burly insistence that cannot help but create momentum going forward, it is a simply presented but masterful introduction to a death metal album that’d consistently create a fresh thread and clip it just as the thrill reaches peak intensity, creating a perpetual hunger for the next big moment.

The mid-paced wallop of “Stones Break Bones” and its funereal breaks was an early standout moment for my own taste, not only for its slow-beaten war pace but for the crashing release of the main riffs, tumbling out of the speakers like a spool of live wire and then snaking back into form whole deep ‘Dawn of Possession’-level growls enhance the grinding spirit of the piece. The brief use of keyboards for the final minute of the song is likewise a fine example of smaller details that become huge events in the mind when recalling what’d made the full listen special. ‘Slaver’ is rife with keen rolls into unexpected ideas, exotic textures and pacing, as well as some righteously performative strokes here and there. The bridge, or later verses of “Graves Awaiting Corpses” is the first spark of what I’d consider smaller nods to the more melodically striking ‘Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious’-esque hand of the guitar work on ‘Slaver’ but this is far more profound an observation with consideration for the first single, “Whore to War” which manages to recall ‘Heartwork’-era Carcass for just enough bars of its pause-for-effect riffing (plus a dash of pre-’89 Running Wild changes) making for a detailed but thrilling bustle on each of the two songs. That’d lead us to what should be a great sign of my affection for this record: The simple in presentation/difficult in execution riffs just don’t lose their appeal and each song has its relatively quick in-n’-out drive mapped into clever, biting and subtle pieces that build upon the original ’96 locus of the project without disassembling the core Cauldron Black Ram sound for even a moment.

The clincher, the brain-cooker, and the rifle to my jaw truly came with “Temples to Death”, a bounding and exemplar piece that pulls from Cauldron Black Ram‘s groove oeuvre but births something curiously fresh, a morbid tarantella that’d send cursed chills up my spine as it rips its semi-melodically charged riffing forth. “The Pit” likewise threatens to usurp that moment as it leans into its more strangled heights. In fact just about every song has its hook, however simple or complex, that helps to break through the dark and stormy production values meant to murk up the atmospherics but never occlude the voice of any one instrument. I could use a little more clang in the bass tone personally but this is so clearly a ‘guitar vibed’ album that it’d not been any real slight for the experience. So, it should be clear that I’ve enjoyed my time with ‘Slaver’ but it wasn’t until I’d found myself about 6-7 full listens deep into the record ~2:00am, slumped over my chair and still somehow ready for several more listens, that it dawned on me Cauldron Black Ram had done it again, and arguably better this fourth time around. That said I’d ultimately see this the sort of record as the type that should be enjoyed first on a full discography binge and then intermittently whenever a “sophisticated barbarian” mindset is necessary. You can gauge your own interest level off of that need. I found the listening experience well-balanced between its two sides with minimal-to-no major filler to pick away at and thusly I can give a very high recommendation for ‘Slaver’ and Cauldron Black Ram in general.

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Artist Cauldron Black Ram
Type Full-length
Released May 22, 2020
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Genre Death Metal,
Black/Death Metal

Very high recommendation. 4.25/5.0

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