BEST OF 2020 #10: Caligula's Horse
There's no denying it: 2020 has firmly cemented itself as an ongoing turgid array of disappointment for many. And while international fans of Brisbane's premier prog lads Caligula's Horse possessed collective heartbreak when the quintet had to postpone their hotly anticipated American tour earlier in the year, a glimmer of joy for fans of razor-sharp prog metal and horse adjacent frivolities emerged in late May when the group unveiled their fifth studio album Rise Radiant. Charting at #23 on the ARIA Australian Albums charts, the highest yet for the group, Rise Radiant certainly had large shoes to fill since C-Horse's 2017 powerhouse In Contact blew the prog world's socks off. But not only did Rise Radiant hold its own against the group's intimidating back catalogue, it ultimately emerged as a true beacon of polished complexity and ferocious elegance, and remains a prolific highlight in a year stacked full of huge releases in the alternative rock world and beyond.
Back in May of this year, I not only had the pleasure of reviewing Rise Radiant; I also had the privilege of cornering the outrageously talented Josh Griffin, aka C-Horse drum lord, on the phone ahead of the release to chat new tunes and beyond (and also complete my Caligula's Horse interview bingo, with Josh as the last band member I hadn't yet interviewed). Despite the bleak surroundings back in May for many of us (which, sadly, is still a reality for many of us right now as I type this), Josh is one of those rare beings who can light up a room without saying a word; but when he does speak, it's definitely a treat to enter into his creative world. And today to kick off The Soundcheck's Best of 2020, come revisit the album review for Rise Radiant as well as the fun chat with Josh and forget your troubles. Audio interview and review below!
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: May 18 2020
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: May 10 2020
Music becomes pure poetry in the hands of Brisbane prog royals Caligula's Horse as they scatter vivacious sonic sorcery throughout their fifth studio album Rise Radiant due out May 22nd.
Already globally renowned for their rigorous compositions and blisteringly elegant energy, prog ponies Caligula's Horse are a band continually striving to push their own limits, dipping further into the ether of their prismatic sonic identity with each passing release since their inception in 2011. But while ambition for some may hider with the creative challenges and expectations that can sidle alongside any band in the modern music world, pursued artistic evolution has instead fuelled a kinetic paragon of prog perfection for the C-Horse gents on their upcoming fifth studio album Rise Radiant. Beware for the literal magic that lies in wait.
First out of the gate is the jaunty bombastic glory that is The Tempest cleaving a mix of oscillating guitars, slinky basslines and gushing drumwork as the C-Horse boys fling their spellbinding staccato rhythmic flair beneath the undulating fervour of frontman Jim Grey. All the beloved C-Horse hallmarks are most certainly present, but spliced in with some notable fresh twists as plump arrangements and melodic twists reign supreme on this thundering introductory anthem (complete with a very welcome blazing Sam Vallen solo). Up next, Slow Violence prowls in with a solitary gnarled riff intertwining with Grey's serpentine vocals before exploding into a crunchy, full-bodied soundscape. The thicc is certainly strong with Slow Violence as the gents balance restraint with full-blown ferocity, led staunchly by the pummeling rhythmics lavished by drummer Josh Griffin, bassist Dale Prinsse and the steadfast Adrian Goleby.
SLOW VIOLENCE (CALIGULA'S HORSE)
It's unavoidable to mention at this point that Caligula's Horse are no one-trick ponies, which admittedly may seem like a cheap pun on paper - but as the haunting solitary piano intro of Salt leads into a churning and heartfelt odyssey, a dazzling display of warmth and stylistic diversity triumphantly displays the stacked and contrasting sonic arsenal C-Horse possess. With arrangements oozing between intoxicating simplicity and lush apexes, Salt also finds Grey flexing new vocal shades during syncopated interludes, while each and every member rises to the occasion to build a shimmering cocoon that'll ultimately raise goosebumps with its swooning harmonics and heart-pounding percussion. And calmly offering a bastion in the middle of the album, Resonate swoons with a tranquil jazzy pop underlay drifting along with ambient drums and intimate guitars. Showing C-Horse in their stripped-back finest, Resonate will soothe you more than a full-body massage and carry you off on a cloud of dissonant charm.
Up next, the chugs are back and C-Horse return to their riffing best as lilting melodics and crisp rhythmics take centre stage with urging flair on Oceanrise. And while the track gifts a balanced outing from all involved, particular mention must go to Vallen as he effortlessly shreds his way through yet another glistening solo, as well as the compelling interplay between both Vallen and Goleby as they sharpen and challenge the intensity of Grey's lyrical exploration of legacy and rising in the face of adversity.
Continuing the ferocity, Valkyrie rides on a blaze of gleeful distortion. Undoubtedly one of the heaviest tracks on offer on Rise Radiant, this bombastic prog metal anthem rises to stadium proportions, stabbing with barbed beauty, blazing grooves and so much snarl on Prinsse's voracious basslines they'll strip some of the paint off your walls. But Valkyrie isn't just a case of finding C-Horse at their rioutous best; the track also offers a timely thematic lesson in calming your inner battles and embracing your journey (a lesson perhaps needed now more than ever with the unease and uncertainty currently gripping our world).
VALKYRIE (CALIGULA'S HORSE)
The instant the acoustic intro on penultimate track Autumn begins, it's clear we're in for something special as Rise Radiant begins to draw to a close. With Grey wafting over an acoustic guitar initially, this simplistic gem is maddeningly divine, offering proof that while this lot can thrash and bash as well as any of their illustrious peers, at their core Caligula's Horse are storytellers and significantly gifted songwriters who can enamour with their lustrous restraint while simultaneously allowing each member to shine through collectively and on their own. And while Grey plaintively croons "change was always on its way//change has always been this way", unwavering positivity soaks through the beautiful dissonance in the latter moments of Autumn while threatening to raise every hair on your body.
As all good things must come to an end, we reach the conclusion of Rise Radiant with The Ascent - and what a fitting note to close on. Bringing back some of the grit and grunt to proceedings, the C-Horse boys close out in epic fashion with transcendent layers and savage riffage that solidifies the apex of the album's overarching core in a ravishing display of stoic vulnerability and dynamic performances. Here, Griffin bulks with emphatic vigor, Grey sweeps seamlessly with glamorous glissandos and whispered might, Goleby and Vallen shine with potent licks and ferocious complexity, while Prinsse anchors the pounding grooves with a burly brilliance.
It seems unnatural to describe an album as perfect; often moments can feel elongated for the sake of justifying the full-length denomination or creativity fails to thrive beyond the jaunty lead singles bread-crumbed to hook listeners. But it is no exaggeration to declare that Rise Radiant is a faultless endeavour and a definitive masterclass in profound storytelling and agile execution. For those not accustomed to the prog metal world, perhaps Rise Radiant will be the lure that finally entices you into this niche yet burgeoning universe. But for all those who already live and breathe this progressive fare, prepare to be utterly blown away by a meticulous masterpiece that will shock and awe in the best possible way, while quite literally embodying the phrase "all killer, no filler". The only downside here is the outrageously high bar C-Horse have once again set for themselves for any future releases. But undoubtedly - Caligula's Horse always rise to the occasion, and Rise Radiant is no exception.
BY TIANA SPETER