Artist: Caligula’s Horse
Album: In Contact
Alongside kangaroos, koalas, and AC/DC, Australia has a fairly sizable prog scene. I’m familiar with Karnivool, but Caligula’s Horse has managed to gallop under my radar until now, although In Contact – a “conceptual work discussing the nature of art and creativity” according to the press release – is the group’s fourth full-length album already. The progressive alternative rockers have supported bands like Opeth, Anathema, Pain of Salvation, and Ne Obliviscaris, which is no mean feat, and therefore I was curious about the album.
The album starts with “Dream the Dead”, which puts the pedal to the metal right away with the first guitar solo coming in already after 20 seconds. However, the song is very melodic and has got nice atmospheric bits and gorgeous clean guitars, as well as intriguing rhythms courtesy of drummer Adrian Goleby. Jim Grey‘s vocal delivery is emotive, and his falsetto reminds me a bit of Arnór Dan Arnarson [Agent Fresco]. Unfortunately “Will’s Song (Let the Colours Run)” is a letdown after the fantastic start – Sam Vallen and Dave Couper have some interesting guitarwork to offer, but also very generic djent breakdowns. There are also some corny gang shouts that would be more at home in a pop-punk song – why in the hell was this chosen as the first taster from the album? Amazingly enough, the quality goes up just as drastically as it went down – “The Hands are the Hardest” is catchy as the plague, with stadium-worthy melodies and cool riffage all over. Now this is a tune with hit potential! “Love Conquers All” is a nice track combining acoustic guitar, electronic beats, and gentle vocal harmonies, but unfortunately it’s just a short interlude – it could’ve been fantastic had it been fleshed out into a full piece. “Songs for No One” is fairly dynamic and quite alright, but ultimately not one of the highlights, and once again there’s some silly chanting.
“Capulet” is a sweet semi-acoustic ballad, and unlike “Love Conquers All” it’s a full-blown song. Grey’s soft singing sounds pleasant, and there’s some nice subtle organ playing going on in the background during the chorus. “Fill My Heart” continues in a slightly similar vein, but also has its metal moments and a brilliant solo by Vallen. The weirdest track on the record is the spoken word piece, “Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall”, which kills the album’s flow and comes across as pretentious and unintentionally comical instead of adding something to the album. “The Cannon’s Mouth” takes the listener back into the run-of-the-mill djent frontier for a while, but luckily the upbeat closing epic “Graves” saves the album from ending on a sour note. It brings to mind modern Fates Warning and Dream Theater, and there’s a surprising saxophone solo, though for some reason there’s no guest musician mentioned in the press bio.
In Contact is a grower, but even after opening up, it’s frustratingly uneven. The production, playing, and vocals are all at a high level, and the highlights – namely the bookending songs and “The Hands are the Hardest” – are some of the finest modern prog metal I’ve heard in the past few years, but at its heaviest (and worst) the album can be very mundane. That said, the best tracks are great enough to make the record worth checking out, and while Caligula’s Horse hasn’t reinvented the wheel or mastered the album format, there’s a sense of melody and songcraft in these best moments that sets it apart from the stablemates. I see potential in these guys and wouldn’t be surprised to see them become one of the big players in the genre if the hit-miss ratio improves on the next album.
Rating: 7/10, 3½ stars
1. Dream the Dead
2. Will’s Song (Let the Colours Run)
3. The Hands are the Hardest
4. Love Conquers All
5. Songs for No One
7. Fill My Heart
8. Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall
9. The Cannon’s Mouth