Artist: Caligula’s Horse
Album Title: Rise Radiant
Label: Inside Out Music
Date of Release: 22 May 2020
Oh, ‘Rise Radiant’, you have not been an easy mistress. Long have been the journeys with you by my side, where I have questioned and dissected our relationship in the most forensic of detail. ‘Am I just with you because of our past?’, ‘do you still do it for me?’, ‘do I still love you like I used to?’ I thought long and hard, as I listened closely to everything you had to say, trying to decipher the hidden meanings, and the glimmers of beauty within you. Would it be worth it, or ultimately all for nought?
I’ve been a fan of Australia’s Caligula’s Horse since their debut, 2011’s ‘Moments From Ephemeral City’, although to be honest, it wasn’t until ‘Bloom’ in 2015 that my love affair with the Brisbane quintet became fully-fledged. Until that point, I’d merely enjoyed our time together. But suddenly, here was a band that demanded attention from the prog community. ‘In Contact’, released three years ago, built on the band’s reputation, raising their stock another few notches higher. In fact, to quote my review of that record:
“‘In Contact’ is very nearly a flawless record and demands Caligula’s Horse be placed at the prog top table with immediate effect.”
Based on their most recent output, expectations have been naturally very high for this next instalment, entitled ‘Rise Radiant’. Personally speaking, upon seeing the artwork that adorns this fifth album, my expectations went through the roof. It is a breathtakingly beautiful cover, one that would have had me shelling out my hard-earned cash just to have it in my collection, regardless of the music that accompanied it.
After the first listen through, I noted with delight that there wasn’t another spoken-word diatribe like ‘Inertia And The Weapon Of The Wall’ lurking within, so immediately, ‘Rise Radiant’ got a big tick in the box. Unfortunately, nothing else really caught my attention. So I listened again. Nothing. Not a thing. Deep down, I knew I was listening to some well-crafted, high-quality music, but that didn’t seem to help. Neither did the crystal clear yet powerful production that blesses the album. I also realised that the music on this record was not a dramatic sea-change and that the usual elements that always made this band so potent a force largely remained present and correct. So what was wrong with me? I just couldn’t get into the album. It felt like nothing stuck, nothing really made an impact on me. I started to berate myself and wondered what was going on. Am I not in love with the music of Caligula’s Horse anymore? It was a thought that I dreaded, but it was staring me in the face, refusing to back down.
‘But this is prog’, I kept telling myself. You’re not always supposed to like some music immediately off the bat; sometimes it takes perseverance and a willingness to open one’s mind a little more to the possibilities within. I ignored my inner voice and shelved the album for a day or two, in the hope that a fresh pair of ears might help. And you know what? I found myself listening to other music but thinking about ‘Rise Radiant’ and in the end, I desired a return for another go.
It wasn’t an instant epiphany, but those melodies that I previously didn’t like because they didn’t go the way I was expecting, or wanted, started making more sense. The unusual, rather unique phrasings and delivery of vocalist Jim Grey that further drove the direction of the choruses and the various hooks contained within the songs began, finally, to work. The dynamics within each of the eight compositions that I didn’t initially appreciate also became more pronounced, understandable, and enjoyable. It meant that almost imperceptibly, I found that I was giving myself over to the music in ways that I simply hadn’t envisaged previously. It has now got to the point where I find myself wondering why I didn’t like the music in the first place, because it is sensational. Well you know what they say: ‘54th time’s a charm!’ I’m relieved because I never like writing reviews that are negative, especially when it involves a band with which I have usually enjoyed such a close relationship. And I’m also relieved because my hard-pressed love affair with Caligula’s Horse can continue unabated.
With fresh ears and an entirely revised opinion, I’m delighted to be able to delve a little deeper into the music on ‘Rise Radiant’ in positive fashion.
Since ‘In Contact’ was released, bassist Dave Couper has been replaced by Dale Prinsse. Other than that, the core of Caligula’s Horse has remained unchanged. It means that vocalist Grey and bassist Prinsse are joined on ‘Rise Radiant’ by guitarists Sam Vallen and Adrian Goleby, as well as drummer Josh Griffin. It is this relative stability that means that the band have been able to simply build on what went before and ‘Rise Radiant’, as I alluded to earlier, is the sound of a band that is becoming more and more adept at what they do. And what they do is artfully blend a wide variety of sounds and influences into an incredibly coherent and smooth listening experience that’s essentially progressive rock with plenty of heavy and more abrasive metallic moments.
I know I struggled at the beginning, but with eyes now wide open, I can appreciate the subtlety of the music, the clever nuances, the juxtaposition between the heavy and the softer passages. Indeed, it is these marked contrasts, frequently within the songs themselves, that creates a greater sense of drama, urgency and potency to the material.
Ironically, given my moniker and my general love of all things heavy, it was that two more sedate tracks that I initially gravitated towards once the mists began to clear, namely ‘Resonate’ and ‘Autumn’. The former is more of a mellow, almost ambient track that boasts Grey’s delicate vocals at its heart, joined by a minimalist soundscape comprised of the bold bass work of Prinsse alongside electronic beats, and sounds and textures more akin to a pop song than a rock band. But it’s beautiful and I have grown to love its seductive and disarming charm. ‘Autumn’ sees elegant acoustic guitars duet with Grey at the outset before it gradually increases for a beautiful chorus, the kind where I cannot quite believe I missed it for so long. Flamboyant bass playing segues into a gorgeous lead guitar solo that carries such emotion with it and before you know it, the song reaches its final throws via a rousing, yet understated crescendo, featuring the chorus melody at its heart.
‘Rise Radiant’ is not all calm serenity though, as you will discover after a second or two of pressing play. ‘The Tempest’ is correctly named as it comes leaping out of the speakers with a commanding, urgent riff and great drumming from Griffin. The contrast between this and the more restrained verses are stark, making it feel like the choruses, when they arrive, are a veritable whirlwind of power in sound form, battering the ears with intelligent control, whilst the fury of the musicians remains obvious to all. ‘Slow Violence’ features a great, off-kilter yet groovy, stop-start riff under which you can hear some subtle synths at play. The chorus is, once again, a stunning hook-laden affair that has my head shaking in disbelief that I couldn’t hear it or appreciate it for so long.
Aside from a couple of well-placed bursts, ‘Salt’ temporarily applies the brakes to the more furious, angry-sounding material. But with tinkling keys and a vague nod in the direction of UK contemporaries Haken, it’s no less poignant, emotional or intense for the overall reduction in heaviness.
I hear more of a djent influence within the guitar work on ‘Oceanrise’ which is handled expertly and doesn’t sound out of place against the deceptively grandiose, melodic chorus that emerges. It is the kind of track that underlines the way in which Caligula’s Horse are always trying to push their own boundaries within the generally more forgiving confines of progressive music. ‘Valkyrie’ is a much darker-sounding and heavy composition to these ears, as well as being overtly prog in the sense that there is an awful lot going on from every corner of the band. It feels complex and technical for much of its five-minute length but is pulled together and made impressively cohesive via an arresting, vibrant chorus, and commanding performance from Jim Grey that demands your full attention; remarkably, he sounds both angry and insecure at the same time.
The album ends with ‘The Ascent’, which emerges seamlessly from it’s predecessor without missing a beat. It is an intense ten-minute thrill-ride, a culmination of everything ‘Rise Radiant’ stands for in many ways. The opening is heavy and complex, whilst throughout, there are some killer riffs to be heard as well as explosions of raw power. It is here that the contrasts that feature across the album are rammed home, with moments of gorgeously intimate, minimalist introspection clashing with these muscular and aggressive outbursts like nowhere else on the album. And yet, after 55 spins, I can only conclude that it works, as if the band are musical alchemists.
I make no bones about it, ‘Rise Radiant’ was not an easy album to get into. I nearly gave up more than once. But something kept pulling me back to it and subconsciously, I refused to be beaten. I’ve never been more grateful to my stubbornness, because I nearly let this record slip through my fingers. As it is, I can sit here now and state with categoric certainty that ‘Rise Radiant’ is the work of a special band, a band that has technical ability in abundance as well as a rare chemistry that allows the five musicians to speak as one. Put as succinctly as I can, Caligula’s Horse have grown to an extent that they have become masters at creating modern-sounding progressive music that is simply irresistible. ‘Rise Radiant’ is the unequivocal proof of this.
The Score of Much Metal: 96%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
…And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother
Vader – Solitude In Madness
Shrapnel – Palace For The Insane
Sinisthra – The Broad And Beaten Way
Paradise Lost – Obsidian
Naglfar – Cerecloth
Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement
Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn
Firewind – Firewind
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Havok – V
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: