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Album Reviews : Caligula’s Horse – Bloom

By on October 18, 2015

caligulas-horse-bloomThe hiss crackles in and we are welcomed with the soothing tones of pastoral acoustics and the delightfully gentle timbre of Jim Grey in tender mode. The presentation isn’t too different from what we’ve seen from C Horse on their previous releases with gently building EBow and full band homophony joining playful and emotional mid gain solo phrasing from Maestro Vallen. “Wake Up!” – and you will as the track which seems to start at a pleasing volume has at least a few decibels of juice left in it to give some dynamics beyond the soft verse/loud chorus dichotomy of 21st Century Prog and Metal. The band moves into what I would deem less technical but equally enjoyable full forced Caligula’s Horse with orchestrated guitar octave melodies and signature riffage, with all band members presence felt from the round and floor rattling bass support of Dave Couper, the natural and smashing skin assault of Geoff Irish, the twin guitars of Vallen and Greensill and Mr Grey entering vocal hero and angelic vocal modes in perfect balance.

Tastefully segueing into “Marigold”, the track begins with a cracking snare and some Opeth inspired head nodding riffs. The music is raw yet polished with some transitional ear candy and the signature Caligula’s short subdrops. This is a head nodding riff main riff. I particularly like how the kick drums are in simple 16ths to start with then begin to follow the guitar rhythms stepping up the groove factor. I suppose this is this album’s “Dark Hair Down” with it’s anthemic choruses and angsty verses and I mean that in a non-pejorative sense. The soundscapes of the verses are lulling and despite the echoing clean tones, we are not faced with a hint of Tesseract clone to me. There are so many times in this track that I feel completely filled with energy and I can just imagine my smile and satisfaction of singing “take heart, it’s all fools gold” with the equally enthusiastic crowd which the band has been known to command now. Stellar track working on all levels and from the moment I heard the excerpt on the Inside Out teaser, I was hooked. On that note, even from a couple of tracks into the album, you can easily see what would have grabbed the attention of the world’s biggest progressive label.

“Firelight”, I had heard before listening to the album as the band had played it live at one of the Sydney shows I managed to catch. An ode to one of Grey’s lost friends, and a touching tune which is markedly gentler than its predecessor. I am particularly fond of the moving basslines under the simpler chimey chords of the chorus which helps the tune avoid being rhythmically stagnant. Bandpass filters keep the tune interesting by adding an additional dynamic layer. The fast guitar solos are ridiculous as per usual and I believe the slower paced solo which comes after the first bandpassed section is actually courtesy of Greensill due to the differed phrasing. It is welcome piece of variety to the tune. I must note that this is probably the most commercial sounding tune in Caligula’s Horse arsenal by the point in time you first hear this song. I’d say it is topped in ways by another track later on the album. As such this song is rather simple chordally which actually turns out to be unfortunately one of my grievances compared with some of the older material.

“Dragonfly” is perhaps the most adventurous C Horse song to date with a definitive link to the sound of The Tide, the Thief & River’s End however there is some stellar restraint in all the right places that allows the melodic themes to develop so effectively to pull on the heartstrings. The recurring riff at 1:35 has enough stank to entice the most hard-to-impress curmudgeon. It definitely receives the nod of approval as well as immense djent cred. Perhaps my favourite movement on the whole album comes in at 2:30 with an absolutely masterfully crafted falsetto line and musical backing extremely reminiscent of “Grace” by Jeff Buckley in its execution. I have noticed that even in a tune which could have been shredded over by Vallen for at least 5 minutes, there is such a degree of only doing so when it serves the song. When you can play like this guy, it would be hard to resist playing odd grouped quintuplet lines and he doesn’t and that’s ok because sometimes you just need have your face ripped from the bone. The layering of the record is very much what could be achieved live in terms of guitar, bass, drums, vocals and a couple of keyboard layers at times just to accentuate the harmony of the tracks or to lead a symphonic melodic reprise of a key guitar figure. This is a very successful track that exemplifies all the finest qualities of the band for me.

“Rust” sounds kind of what I think Karnivool would sound like if they were writing for Ihsahn. There are some really nice tremolo picked riffs in there to supplement the delayed cleans and when the chorus comes in, it is pleasing and rocking. Probably not one of my favourite songs and it probably didn’t hold my attention the same way as most of Tide did. I started to wonder by about this point about why there wasn’t quite as much presence of the very jazz inspired harmony of the groups last two records, I don’t really have much of an answer but maybe their overall growth has leaned towards a relatively simpler harmonic approach when compared with themselves. Maybe your everyday fan won’t really notice and likely the new fans that being on the mammoth Inside Out label will bring will start to know the band has not having the fusion harmony that I’ve grown to love but I think some people will miss it. Just as I start to think negatively about this, I am smashed with a djenty groove that makes me forget about it. Tank.

“Turntail” is probably the band’s most commercially accessible track to date. The quirky guitar line is similar to what one might hear in a Plini or Polyphia track and it definitely is a piece of ear candy keeping up the interest. The optimism I hear in this track almost reminds me of something like C Horse’s take on a modern Linkin Park approach at least in the chorus, verses and break before the last chorus. I’m sure people will be raving about this track and rightly so.

“Daughter of the Mountain” is an extremely progressive track that has all the syncopation and aura of Pain of Salvation from their creative peak. Beautiful song. The band is on fire on this one. So enjoyable, I somehow doubt it will have much circulation live due to its heavily artistic touch and I dare say it would be too soft for my home town of Sydney to fully get into. This shows so much growth for the band to me, it is technical, groovy, delicate, and memorable without any unwarranted flash. It builds to such a peak and in all honesty I would have much preferred it to end the album.

“Undergrowth” is a beautiful acoustic track filled with all the drama and variance that I love in a track with chord movements that give me goosebumps. I just feel like it would have worked musically and dynamically for my tastes better before “Daughter of the Mountain”; the two could have even been joined as one song for me to create the ultimate C-Horse prog monster. Lyrically it may not have worked at all as I haven’t been able to put together the big picture lyrically but I look forward to sewing the tapestry together when I get a lyrics booklet. “Catch me weightless, by her side she breathes…” melodically and emotionally is so strong, I don’t want my critical appraisal of this song to minimise the quality of the writing.

The production of the album is competitive and modern, however very natural. I guess I probably prefer a more polished/hyper produced sounding album just in terms of unrealistically big drums and thicker layering at times but what Caligula’s Horse deliver here is a slick, professional, loud album that isn’t in the slightest a tedious listen.

I think with such an artisan and masterful band like this, it’s inevitable for huge fans to have different favourite albums based on small differences in preferences and I would say that I still prefer The Tide, The Thief, & River’s End but only by a whisker and I’d think that would come down to my preference for the jazzier harmony and a few more of the really strong hooks like in “All Is Quiet by the Wall” and “Dark Hair Down”. In spite of this, this record definitely feels like a band that has grown and is on an upward climb and I wish them the best. In a year of “out of the park” quality releases across all genres of music, this is one of my favourites and is surely to please fans old and new. I highly recommend anyone to get in early and watch these boys play with Tesseract in October 2015 or any time they are playing in your town. Remember that crazy band name because these guys are about to explode.