After slogging away for 16 years, German metallers Caliban are still trying to make an impression on a North American market that dwindled on them when their previous label, Abacus Records, folded in the summer of 2007. Now on Abacus's former parent label, Century Media, Caliban are back with the newly released Ghost Empire, their third album for the large metal label and ninth in total.
And while their audiences in Germany and the rest of Europe are strong and steady, guitarist and songwriter Marc Görtz tells Exclaim! that he hopes their latest album will make a bigger impression in North America.
"I don't really know anymore what our fan base is like over there," says Görtz from his home in Germany. "We used to tour in North America a lot, actually, many years ago, but then we had problems when Abacus went bankrupt and our album didn't get released by Century Media until a year and half after it was released in Europe. So, our following over there was ruined and ever since then it's been really hard to get a tour offer that would cover our expenses."
Considered one of the premier bands in the second wave of metalcore during the early 2000s, Caliban became synonymous with heavy breakdowns and gang vocals. But their past three albums, although slightly under the new-school metal radar, have embraced a more melodic side, combining atmospherics with a broader range of vocal styles, all the while style dropping a metallic heaviness that rivals anything currently being called metalcore.
"So many bands sound the same and they just put one breakdown after another, so it gets boring, not only in the States, but everywhere. Even here in Germany there are bands who are playing breakdown after breakdown, with some electronic stuff thrown in," says Görtz. "Our influences are maybe different than other bands who play our style. I'm really influenced by songwriters who use lots of melodies, bands like Muse and Dredg; guitar sounds and noises that bring out some cool atmosphere and stuff, so that's what we do that's unique, especially since the I Am Nemesis record."
Released in 2012, their previous album I Am Nemesis marked a conscious shift in vocal style for lead singer Andreas (Andy) Dörner, although it wasn't until the recording of Ghost Empire that he was able to implement the changes, which included smoother transitions between his brutal screaming and the soft, clean background vocals of guitarist Denis Schmidt.
"We were pretty happy and excited that [Dörner] was able to do it this time," explains Görtz. "We wanted to do this last time but Andy wasn't able to do it because it was hurting his throat and he couldn't hit the notes, so we held onto those ideas for this record so he could practise those vocals styles. He hated us by the end of the recording, because we kept pushing for it and we had parts where we thought that type of melody would fit. He was trying and not getting it at first, so we just kept pushing him to the limit and during the recording he learned to hate us a lot, but when the album was done he realized why we did it."
Ghost Empire was recorded in Germany and produced by Görtz and longtime collaborator Benny Richter (of likeminded German band the Mercury Arc). Richter also wrote lyrics for the album, which Görtz calls a "logical extension" of the band's large album catalog.
"This time we tried to always make it sound better and improve the playing," he says. "I was really focused on the guitar sound, to have it, how can I say, really transparent? There's so much going on and so many layers on this album, I wanted to have a really clear sound. So that was something I wanted to accomplish, but the rest was let's just see how it turns out… I think the production is really good and heavy and it brings a lot of energy, so I really like it."
And while the band would love to tour North America again, according to Görtz it's a not a question of demand, but rather logistics and economics.
"Everybody is always asking, 'When are you guys coming over? When are you guys coming over?' and we get these messages every day," he says. "We just hope that some promoter will notice this at some point and see that there's a lot of people who are interested in this band, and they don't make an offer for, like, $100 a day or something like that, and it doesn't even cover the cost of our flights. We don't want to make huge money off coming over there, but covering the costs would be great."