Artist: Caligula’s Horse
Album Title: Bloom
Label: InsideOut Music
Year Of Release: 2015
When I recently wrote about the strength of the Australian heavy metal scene, one of the bands that I used to illustrate my point was Caligula’s Horse. The progressive rock/metal band from Brisbane had not long before released the magnificent ‘The Tide, The Thief & River’s End’ and, even though it was only the band’s second album since forming in 2011, it was impressive enough to mean that I had no choice but to include them in an already strong list of bands from the land ‘down under’.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to be impressed with ‘The Tide, The Thief & River’s End’ because it received quite a bit of well-deserved critical acclaim and resulted in the quintet inking a deal with one of my all-time favourite record labels, InsideOut. And, based on the output on the simply-titled third album, ‘Bloom’, InsideOut have been rewarded and rewarded handsomely. Allow me to spend the rest of this review explaining why.
To those who already enjoy everything that the progressive world throws at us, vocalist Jim Grey will been familiar with the voice at the head of Caligula’s Horse as he also fronts the equally impressive Arcane who have made waves this very year with their double album ‘Known/Learned’. Having listened to both and ‘Bloom’ in particular repeatedly for several days now, I can say that this release is every bit as impressive. It’s quite different of course, but excellent in its own right.
The first thing to mention about ‘Bloom’ concerns its length. Featuring eight tracks and with an overall playing time of around 45 minutes, I have a very real feeling that it could have been a little longer, particularly for a prog record. Am I saying that I feel short-changed? No, I’m not, for reasons that will become clear later. Do I feel ever so slightly disappointed by the apparent brevity? A little, yes. But, turn this on its head and this initial gripe becomes a positive in the band’s favour. If I’m wishing the album was longer, it must be enjoyable and full of great music, right? Abso-flippin’-lutely.
‘Bloom’ opens with the title track where sounds of an acoustic guitar and nothing else seep into the senses for a few seconds before Jim Grey joins in with his beautiful voice. The melody is simple and effective and the whole thing sounds crystal clear and very rich and vibrant. On the very first listen, I looked across at my other half and, with headphones on, I mouthed ‘oh, this is good’, grinning broadly as I did so. A lovely emotive lead guitar joins the party before the track explodes at the half-way mark. Pummelled by something initially approaching a wall of sound, the melodic intent takes over and in a flash this three-minute opener concludes, seguing seamlessly into ‘Marigold’. There are echoes of other alternative, progressive acts such as Karnivool etc, but ultimately, these are just that; echoes and fleeting similarities within the Caligula’s Horse framework.
‘Marigold’ is one of my favourite tracks on the record. It flits majestically between soft, calming melodies to powerful and heavy riffing courtesy of founder Sam Vallen and Zac Greensill that’s stop-start in its approach, thus creating great headbanging fodder. When the track is at its quietest, the richness of the instrumentation is something to behold, enhancing the subtle, beguiling melodies to great effect. And the chorus? It’s a barnstormer that takes a few spins to appreciate fully but once lodged in your head, it’s beautifully infectious. There’s time for a cracking lead guitar solo before the composition is done, as well as some intense work from the rhythm section of Dave Couper’s bass and drummer Jeff Irish.
Next up is another firm favourite, ‘Firelight’. As with the two preceding tracks, it packs a myriad of different musical ideas into a composition that lasts under five minutes but does it in such a way that it’s not immediately obvious how much is actually contained within it. It leads to an initial feeling that the music is not actually that ‘progressive’ in the classic term of the word but that merely demonstrates how clever and subtle the compositions really are. There’s a demonstrable Kings Of Leon vibe to much of ‘Firelight’ but if I might be a little cheeky, it sounds like Kings Of Leon could sound if they were as good as Caligula’s Horse. It opens with some lovely layered vocals, whilst the central chorus is utterly compelling and one of the most immediate things I’ve heard during 2015, enhanced by a powerful and passionate performance from Grey behind the mic.
The longest track on the record follows in the form of ‘Dragonfly’. Again, it starts relatively quietly but doesn’t take long before the instrumentation is in full swing. The result is another rich, full-sounding and fully satisfying chorus. The song takes many twists and turns throughout its nine minute length including experimentation with properly heavy djent-esque riffing, acoustic breakdowns, Opeth or Katatonia-like mournful guitar flourishes that sit lower in the mix but catch my ear instantly. The instrumental breakdown at the half-way mark is classic prog and the lead guitar flourish that follows is a delight, before dropping away to allow just the piano to continue with the central melody. This song has echoes of Haken to it amongst others but remains totally Caligula’s Horse, closing in a suitably epic and strangely uplifting fashion where the keys play an important role in creating the rousing atmosphere.
‘Rust’ is arguably the most intense and angry-sounding track on the record with an angry chorus lyric that is accentuated by an almost snarling Grey, who elsewhere delivers some of his most melodious and captivating work. In the lead-up to the chorus, which again is hook-laden and memorable, the intensity is increased cleverly and an urgency builds palpably. The drumming is some of the most furious on the record and the guitars return to a djent-inspired heaviness, albeit delivering a clever and complex riff.
‘Turntail’ opens in almost pop-like fashion thanks to an upbeat melody that is then soon joined by more crunchy, choppy riffs that scratch the itch of those wanting their prog on the heavier end of the spectrum. In no way can Caligula’s Horse be referred to as extreme metal, their output is satisfyingly chunky and robust enough to please the metalheads amongst us. The song then opens just after the mid-point expansively before returning to the opening and highly-addictive pop-like chorus.
‘Daughter Of The Mountain’ tops the seven-minute mark and again packs a lot of music in. The bass guitar catches my ear, as it has done throughout as it creates a really positive vibrancy and richness to the whole track, but principally when the bulk of the instruments drop away during the quieter, more introspective moments. In tandem with either a soft acoustic guitar or piano, the bass work is simple and compelling. I may sound like I’m repeating myself, but the chorus is a killer, acting as a seductive earworm to counterpoint the more complex and challenging structures and musical ideas that surround it brilliantly.
‘Bloom’ is then concluded via ‘Undergrowth’, an acoustic guitar and vocal number that’s simple, effective and allows a final chance for Grey to stake his claim as one of the most striking vocalists in a genre already awash with great singers.
How on Earth do I sum up an album that’s a good as ‘Bloom’ from Caligula’s Horse is? The answer is to not be fancy with the words and be honest. I absolutely adore this record and I consider ‘Bloom’ to be a modern progressive rock/metal behemoth that will leave a hugely positive impression on anyone who likes quality music that is as beautiful as it is subtle and ambitious.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:
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Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld