Rise Radiant by Caligula's HorseRelease date: May 22, 2020
Label: InsideOut Music
Since 2011, Caligula’s Horse have taken their musical future into their own hands and have forged something quite unique and determined. The one word I think of that always permeates their material is “passion”. It shows and ultimately shines through when the finished product reaches the listener’s ears, and it’s immediate that great care is taken in constructing their imprint in progressive music.
Helping guide this constant drive for passion in their songwriting is original members Jim Grey and Sam Vallen, who have helped to hone this well-oiled machine despite select member changes through the years. The current line-up that is rounded out by Adrian Goleby (guitar), Josh Griffin (drums) and Dale Prinsse (bass, vocals) help to continue to fuel their creative path. This is evident in present day with the release of their fifth album Rise Radiant, which keeps the band pushing their own brand of prog to the forefront of the metal world, while continuing to inject other influences to set them apart from the pack.
‘The Tempest’ starts off with a synth-propelled jaunt that launches into a tech-heavy barrage, accentuated by deliberate percussion. Grey’s trademark vocals push out the emotion from subtle to forceful and back again, showing how his skills on the mic get more refined as their catalogue progresses. There’s an infectious energy on this opener that makes me bob my head back and forth without even realizing it, all while maintaining their cohesiveness. ‘Slow Violence’ follows with voice/guitar playfulness that launches into much the same energy as the album opener. The chorus takes on a somewhat operatic approach while venturing back into the heavy terrain. This first single of the new album encompasses the band’s sound perfectly and is a great introduction to their music for first-time listeners.
In a lot of ways, I find ‘Salt’ to be my favourite track on the album. Engaging piano pushes from lush to accompanied by the rest of the instruments before going back to a subtle delivery. The theme of the song goes back and forth with heavy and introspective passages, with Grey’s delicate and pitch-perfect vocals really framing the beautiful textures and somewhat operatic peaks and valleys of their musical landscape. This song is the first major opportunity for the band to expand on their provocative prog presence. A real winner that I hope to hear live some day. ‘Resonate’ features multi-layered vocals that portray an atmospheric quality with some electronic percussion helping to guide this small yet welcome breather nearing the album’s half-way point.
‘Oceanrise’ is a song that is all about the musicians masterful syncopated quality, showing how tight the groove is within all the instruments showcased, topped-off by a rousing and emotive guitar solo by Vallen. His guitar style has really won me over recently as he’s found his own niche, with a sound that is becoming instantly identifiable as his own.
The title ‘Valkyrie’ made me think this would be a Viking themed track, but this band never came across to me as a throwback act. Instead, this song gives off more positive and bright emotions with another dose of Vallen’s swirling and fluid take on lead guitar.
And as if no time has passed due to my enjoyment of this album as a whole, it’s time for the band to send us off in memorable fashion in the near eleven-minute ‘The Ascent’. The five-piece gives off their best effort of melding the heavy and emotional into a tight and evocative package, soaring between dizzying highs and bottom-ended lows, all while maintaining that perfect syncopated mastery. This song works well at showing that the group never needs to go balls-out to cement their original brand of music. Rather, it emotes in light and heavy pieces that form a cohesive sound, never coming off as pompous or tiresome.
The overall clean syncopated punch of their sound continues to be the main theme of their music, with their attention to atmosphere letting the songs really breathe, which is hard to master without sounding phony or boring from a lot of current bands in the progressive metal landscape. Thankfully though, the djent influence has been downplayed a bit on this album compared to previous works, which is welcome to my ears as I’ve never been a fan of that trend in modern prog metal. It’s used by them in more of a forceful push to tie certain riffs together, which is fine by me.
One thing that has always come across as genuine with the band is that they have always had this knack for injecting positive vibes into their sound without coming across as cheesy and cliche. I just feel good listening to it, which seems to be a feat that is harder and harder to accomplish in modern music.
I read influences in their current bio spanning King Crimson, Steely Dan, Opeth and Jeff Buckley. And while all are present in certain degrees in the make-up of the band’s sound, I come to the realization that with Caligula’s Horse, I don’t immediately attach them to any one influence. However, I am able to give them a proper listen at any time without thinking of certain musicians that can be picked out as inspirational to them, and find their sound to be all their own. And really, isn’t that the hope of any band; to have their own sound without jumping to obvious conclusions of past musical worship? These musicians have found that particular hope to be fully realized into their own sound, without any signs of letting up, and that’s all I can ask for as a fan.