Artist: Caligula’s Horse
Album Title: In Contact
Label: InsideOut Music
Date Of Release: 15 September 2017
When it comes to modern progressive music, this Brisbane-based outfit are currently up there with the very best. Caligula’s Horse stunned me with their previous album, ‘Bloom’, so much so that it ended up well within my top 10 albums of 2015, and rightly so. I have yet to grow tired of that record, such is its beauty and intensity. To quote my review at the time:
“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.”
I stand by what I said – ‘Bloom’ is a masterpiece. The only problem then is that it makes it tricky for the band when it comes to the follow-up. With expectations high amongst their growing fan base, could the quintet match the levels of excitement and anticipation with another high quality release? Being one of those rabid fans myself, this was my overriding thought as I entered the conceptual world of ‘In Contact’ for the first time.
If lead vocalist Jim Grey, guitarists Sam Vallen and Adrian Goleby, bassist/vocalist Dave Couper and drummer Josh Griffin felt any nerves or apprehension, it does not show. Instead, they have thrown heart and soul into this new record. From the irresistible cover artwork, right through to the deeply considered concept that flows through the album, it is clear that ‘In Contact’ has been put together with genuine passion and a tremendous attention to detail. Then there’s the music itself which I shall come on to in the fullness of time.
‘In Contact’ features ten individual tracks and, in stark contrast to ‘Bloom’, which was never long enough, has a running time that breaks the hour mark. But it’s more complicated than that. To quote Jim Grey from an interview he conducted regarding the concept:
“I had this idea, this big broad sci-fi thing. In the world in which this album is set, every piece of art that exists in the world is an attempt by human beings and artists to remember a dream that we all share that we have forgotten. That’s the fundamental idea. We found a way to tell that story by telling four separate very personal stories about artists that are displaced from each other by space and time across this universe. The stories are telling the things in their life that they are reaching for, that they are attempting to improve.”
Grey goes on to confirm that ‘In Contact’ features some of the most personal material of their career to date. I’m not surprised either because one of the first impressions I get with this record is that it is definitely a darker, heavier and altogether more intense listen than any of their previous output. The first notes of the opening track are heavy and rather uncompromising, setting the tone for what is to follow.
That said, like all Caligula’s Horse material before it, ‘In Contact’ is not afraid to mix things up and so whilst much of the music treads a heavier path, you still get the quieter, more introspective and more soothing passages, where much more subtle soundscapes are experimented with. I love this mix of styles because it helps to create more depth to the music and, in turn, allows the different ingredients to make a stronger impact. In addition, to use that age-old cliché, the music takes the listener on a journey, where you cannot help but become immersed in the story that’s being told.
At the hands of vocalist Jim Grey, that story really comes alive too. Here is a vocalist that has all the talent and intelligence to use just the right tone or delivery at just the right time. Whether that’s soft and vulnerable or something bordering on anger or frustration, his voice is damn-near impeccable, enabling the various emotions to come to the surface with sincerity and, on occasion, with spine-tingling results.
Returning to the aforementioned opener, ‘Dream The Dead’, it certainly sets the album off in the right manner. In many ways it is the perfect amalgamation of everything that is so powerful about Caligula’s Horse, taking the blueprint of ‘Bloom’, but expanding it, refining it and making a glorious noise in the process. We have the heavy element, led by some commanding ‘wall of sound’ riffing but we also get plenty of melody, tons of variety and an ebb and flow that feels effortless. Given the technicality on display, the smoothness of the composition is quite incredible as is the immediacy. But this is all testament to the song writing prowess of a band that is becoming ever more secure in their own abilities as well as displaying a clarity of purpose and direction.
I love the way that, just after we are confronted by big stop-start riffs and a wailing guitar solo from Sam Vallen, the song almost dies, kept alive only by the subtle, tentative sounds of a lone guitar somewhere in the distance. Inevitably, the track builds and it does so in exquisite fashion, almost ambient post rock in tone initially. The melodic refrain as all of the instruments come together is gorgeous, creating an otherworldly, heart-warming climax that is as epic as it is beautiful.
‘Will’s Song (Let The Colours Run)’ follows and, as many of you will have already heard, it is classic Caligula’s Horse. Modern-sounding heavy progressive music imbued with some melodic intent that grows the more I listen. The quasi-hardcore shouted vocals are unexpected but I somehow like them, as they fit the more urgent and confrontational tone that flows through this track.
The piano and clean guitar sounds that dominate the opening of ‘The Hands Are The Hardest’ are magnificent and this is an instant favourite of mine. Underpinned by an expressive rhythm section, there’s a bounciness and cheekiness that is a total joy, whilst the delicate vocals from Grey are the perfect accompaniment. The chorus is magical too, showing Caligula’s Horse at their memorable best, giving me goosebumps each and every time I listen.
‘Love Conquers All’ could be referred to as something of an interlude but it is just too exquisite to be dismissed in such a casual manner. It is as light as air and features some of the most instant and sublime melodies of the entire record, bringing the first part of the album, entitled ‘To The Wind’ to a very agreeable and fitting close.
Part Two of the concept, entitled ‘Caretaker’ kicks off with ‘Songs For No One’ which wastes no time in stamping its authority via a heavy and frantic intro that then gives way to a cracking, chunky riff that writhes and twists. Grey unleashes his entire range, whilst the chorus delivers some delicious hooks and melodies that counteract the overt progressive nature of the remainder of the track.
The acoustic-led ‘Capulet’ is ethereal in in tone and features some interesting synth tones, whilst Grey’s voice is so delicate and sensitive. ‘Fill My Heart’ is a more forceful and confrontational beast but only in part, as it also displays the softer, more subtle side of Caligula’s Horse. By this point, I am marvelling at the crisp and clear production which allows each instrument the space to make their mark. On this particular track as with many others, my ear is drawn to the rich and powerful bass of Dave Couper and the flamboyant drumming of Josh Griffin which is both intricate and bruising when required.
If there’s one minor gripe that I have with ‘In Contact’, it’s the spoken-word monologue ‘Inertia And The Weapon of the Wall’. I appreciate what Jim Grey is trying to do here. It fits the concept, offers something different, and his delivery is intense and full of drama. However, personal taste dictates that I am left ever so slightly cold by it. When the band are as talented as this, I want more music, not a theatrical diatribe, however passionately delivered it might be.
Returning to the music again and the bruising, chug of ‘The Cannon’s Mouth’ assaults the senses, full of groove and interesting time signatures, closing out Part Three, ‘Ink’, with a bang. The way in which it flirts with melodies that are almost waltz-like in the way that they rise and fall in tandem with the vocals is very interesting as is the formidable djent-esque riffs that bring the track to a robust end.
The final song, ‘Graves’, stands on its own as Part Four of the concept and, at 15 minutes in length, it has every right to do so. It goes somewhat without saying that the track is an epic, multi-faceted affair but I am struck each time by the sheer variety which is contained within it. The quiet opening, the uplifting, feel-good melody that follows as the song breaks out of its minimalist cocoon, the effortless blend of heaviness and subtle complexities, the immediacy of some sections and the challenging nature of others, the vocal choir segment that has religious overtones despite not necessarily having any religious content; it takes a number of listens to take it all in adequately but it also gets better with each spin.
I really love the sense that within the ebb and flow, this track is slowly, inexorably building to profound climax. And so it comes to pass. The climax to this song brings back those defiant-sounding gang-type vocals and, a little alarmingly, a shrieking saxophone to enhance the urgency present at this late stage in proceedings. But these elements are then interspersed with a reprise of those lush, warm melodies heard earlier in the piece, giving ‘Graves’ a truly memorable finale.
In a year that has produced some top-drawer progressive albums already, here’s another to add to the list. Caligula’s Horse may have produced a masterpiece with ‘Bloom’ but the more I listen to ‘In Contact’ and the more it burrows into my affections, the more certain I am that the Australian quintet have matched their past efforts, maybe even superseded them. ‘In Contact’ is very nearly a flawless record and demands Caligula’s Horse be placed at the prog top table with immediate effect.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.75
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day