CD Review – Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant

Caligula’s Horse, from Brisbane, Australia, is regarded by many as a leading light in contemporary progressive metal alongside Opeth and Haken. Their music is both colourful and emotional with an eclectic set of influences as diverse as King Crimson, Steely Dan, Opeth, and Jeff Buckley.     

The band has intended to take ambitious strides with each of its releases, maintaining a course of continual artistic development and often reinvention. Formed in 2011, the band received critical acclaim for their eclectic and exploratory debut, Moments from Ephemeral City (2011), and its dark, conceptual follow-up, The Tide, the Thief & River’s End (2013). But Caligula’s Horse made its mark worldwide with the vibrant and hard-hitting third album, Bloom (2015, and then again with the fourth album In Contact (2017).    

In May 2020, Caligula’s Horse released what they anticipated to be the most focussed and potent artistic statement from the band yet: Rise Radiant, an uncompromising exploration of the human experience dressed in vivid musical colour and virtuosic performances. It is the seen as the culmination of the band’s artistic development, concentrating the achieving expressive stylings which have garnered Caligula’s Horse a legion of fans worldwide. But it has also aimed for far more. Rise Radiant is the Caligula’s Horse sound pushed to its extremes: at once its most ferocious and its most touching, its most expansive and its most condensed, its most poetic and its most vicious.

They have certainly achieved that aim with this release. The opening is powerful and heavy. The Tempest and Slow Violence are quite dense but also melodic, giving an airing to the band’s more popish side. But Resonate takes another aspect and presents an almost ambient leaning face of the band. The album closer, The Ascent, manages to present a balance of the two. Whilst all the band are allowed the chance to shine, it is the guitar work of Sam Vallen and the vocals of Jim Grey that catch the attention most. Collectively though, this strikes the listener as a supremely well-crafted album.

But the release also has a number of weaknesses that have become almost atypical of progressive metal. There is a density and powerful heaviness to the music that cannot be denied, and the playing is quite intricate, colourful and textured. It retains its emotional aspect too. But it also comes across as restricted and introspective. All artists to some degree play music that appeals to a certain section of a possible audience, but as a genre progressive metal strikes the more casual listener as one that is feeding itself. A much more daring scenario, and you might think artistically fulfilling one for the band, would be to spread beyond those boundaries and be more expansive.

1. The Tempest (04:50)

2. Slow Violence (04:32)

3. Salt (07:40)

4. Resonate (02:37)

5. Oceanrise (04:37)

6. Valkyrie (05:11)

7. Autumn (07:51)

8. The Ascent (10:42)

9. Don’t Give Up (05:14) (bonus track)

10. Message To My Girl (03:56) (bonus track)

Jim Grey – lead vocals

Sam Vallen – lead guitar

Adrian Goleby – guitar

Dale Prinsse – bass

Josh Griffin – drums

With: Lynsey Ward (Exploring Birdsong) / vocals, keyboards

Format: Vinyl (2LP + CD), CD, Digital

Release Date: May 22, 2020

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