REVIEW: CALIGULA’S HORSE – “Bloom”
Taking their name from the prized possession of one of Rome’s most oppressive leaders, Caligula’s Horse are another jewel in Australia’s fine progressive rock crown. ‘Bloom’ is their third full-length release, and so strong are its contents that it garnered attention from Germany’s progressively heavy label, Inside Out. With a mission statement that aspires to blur the lines between power and reflection and assert musical depth, Caligula’s Horse aims are set high, and wish to unite audiences around the world.
The opening track “Bloom” begins the album at a slow pace with an acoustic guitar. Jim Grey gently sings over the top with his Maynard James Keenan-esque high tenor vocals. The keen Aussie prog fan will note that this is the second release Jim Grey has lent his vocal duties to this year, having already released Arcane’s double album ‘Known/Learned’ in January. The introduction of the first guitar solo lifts the track and is tonally similar to modern Opeth, with its subtle blues feel that leads into a mammoth wall of sound that is more uplifting than a jugular assault.
“Marigold” leads us into darker territories with snarling riffs coming from guitarists Sam Vallen and Zac Greensill. The dynamics of the rhythm section consisting of bass player Dave Couper and drummer John Irish are fully put to the test as the composition weaves through dramatic section changes of atmosphere and spite. The mix is astounding, allowing Grey’s voice to seep into your extremities as the lyrics, ‘feed my soul, When to nothing I fade, gone, borne by the choices I made’ pensively seep deep within.
“Firelight” paints a less sinister landscape with beautiful melodic guitar solos that careen between Jim Grey’s vocals. It’s the most direct song of the album, but that should not deter from its subtle complexities that in most part defy genre classification. The guitar solo bridging into the final chorus is a thing of life-defining beauty that would leave Paul Masvidal yearning to create a proper follow up to ‘Traced In Air’.
The longest and most experimental track of the album manifests itself in “Dragonfly”, a track name that represents the changing of self within its tonal pallets. Grey again shows off his vocal versatility by reaching into his falsetto and pulling out a performance that would have people believe Jeff Buckley is alive and well in Australia. It marks another compositional achievement for the band with elements of math rock and another masterfully constructed guitar solo.
For those who enjoy the atmospheric chunk and double kick flourishes of bands like Tesseract, “Rust” is for you. ‘So fuck your prayer for rain, rust is for us’ Jim wails as the four piece move into the heaviest djent-type riff of the album. Caligula’s Horse have a penchant for wrapping even the most aggressive and thorny musical constructs into a manner that still leaves the listener feeling uplifted. It’s a key talent in their writing and something that can unite heavy metal and alternative music fans.
“Turntail” sits well in its place in the album but doesn’t offer anything that hasn’t been explored better elsewhere. From the opening, it feels more streamlined and pop-orientated than the other tracks; that’s not a complaint by any means as it’s expansive vocals and groovy rhythms will connect with an audience and fill any venue. For me however, it acts as a rest-stop leading in to “Daughter of the Mountain”. At a scratch under 8 minutes, it’s the second longest track of the album, further exploring their progressive approach to instrumentation. The track is again a slave to the groove, with enough china hits coming from the drummer to orchestrate a sea of banging heads amongst a myriad of guitar solos, pockets of heavy bass and inventive musical ideas.
“Undergrowth” finishes the album full-circle, leading in with the acoustic guitar again. It’s lyrically emotive and again shows Jim’s lack of conforming to simple vocal melodies as he dances around the obvious in flutters of melisma. Gone are the progressive overtones, and we finish on a sombre moment of reflection with the album’s muse reveals itself: ‘She breathes life into the heart of me. Where there’s love I’ll feed it.’
Deep thoughts and complex musicianship delivered in a digestible package, Caligula’s Horse manage a synergy between the technical and compositional that many of their counterparts overlook. ‘Bloom’ accomplishes its mission statement and more, bringing in a new and refreshing wave of emotional depth that few between Tool and Karnivool have managed. Currently touring with Tesseract down under, Caligula’s Horse will be taking Europe by siege, kicking off towards the end of the month with Norways’ black jazzers Shining.