For many a season, progressive metal bands sprouted and attempted to take root under the penumbral gloom of Dream Theater, with band after band mimicking DT’s approach: Long form songs, extended instrumental passages, technical expertise, shifting time signatures and sometimes uninspired vocal lines. The Dream Theater approach seems to have perhaps shifted to a back-seat position or are at least sharing the driver’s seat with other approaches to the genre.
One group of progressive metal bands show clear elements of the so-called djent approach with extended range guitars and off-time chugs being played under often quite high-pitched vocals with the occasional growly-bit added for effect. These elements feature in bands such as TesseracT and the subject of this review: Caligula’s Horse.
Caligula’s Horse is a progressive metal band from Brisbane, Australia that takes its name from the famous Roman equine (why their first album wasn’t titled Incitatus I simply cannot fathom). Their newest album, In Contact, is their fourth overall and second through the Inside Out label. I was quite pleased and excited to receive an advance copy of the album, as I thought that their previous effort, Bloom, showed tremendous promise. Their current release is entitled In Contact and is a theme album that, among other things, acts as a critique upon the trope of the ‘struggling artist’ and the appeal that the idea of a mentally ill or otherwise desperate artist somehow possesses for the general public. We like our artists to sorrow, seemingly because we believe that tormented genius is the only true genius.
The first two tracks are heavy and fast, and while they are good enough, I found myself hoping that the band would take a stylistic shift after these two songs, because of their rather unrelenting nature and wall of sound that came pouring out. Fortunately for both me and for the overall strength of the album, the shift came on the third track.
The third track, “The Hands are the Hardest” provides a welcome stylistic shift and features a more ‘pop’ sound than the rest of the album. Where the opening two tracks come at the listener with guitars a-blazing, “Hands” features a much more delicate lick around which the rest of the song is structured. It was also mixed noticeably differently than the rest of the album, which is unfortunate, because it was also mixed better than the rest of the album, but more on that later.
The fourth track “Love Conquers All” has sequenced drums and ambient sound effects over some acoustic guitar playing, which is a shift from the rest of this album and from anything the band did on their previous effort, Bloom.
This stylistic bouncing about continues throughout the album, making for a fun and engaging listen. Caligula’s Horse is obviously an intelligent band (apart from the whole Incitatus thing), and they have here an intelligent concept supporting intelligent songs.
I alluded above to my one major criticism of the album. The third track was mixed by Cameron James (apologies if I have the name wrong), the only track he did, and it does stand out because it is one of the few tracks where I felt like the vocals never get lost in the mix. Particularly in the up-tempo tracks, I find myself frequently thinking, “I know Jim Grey can sing, why are they hiding him in the mix?” That aside, In Contact is well worth a spin and dropping a few quid on. Intelligent bands deserve our support at least as much as the latest pop chanteuse does.
Caligula’s Horse’s latest album, In Contact, will be available on September 15, 2017, through InsideOut Music. Pre-order it here.