Review: Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant

Rise Radiant by Caligula’s Horse. It’s a review I’ve been struggling to contain myself for over the months gone by with ears gripped firmly in anticipation; suffice to say that my expectations have been surpassed with ease…

Even now, as I begin this literary venture, I find myself staring into that luscious, alluring album art, knowing full well that any written words will do this record an injustice; but, after much-failed experimentation with interpretive dance, I think I’ll give it a crack.

This is Australian progressive rock/metal outfit, Caligula’s Horse’s fifth record and its milestone stature ahead of an almost spotless discography is more or less telling of Rise Radiant’s triumphant refinement of what makes the band great. From their 2011 debut, Moments from Ephemeral City, to 2017’s In Contact, CH’s story has been that of opera, tension and beauty that excelled further within its vision of prog-tastic cinematics upon each release. Rise Radiant, then, is that same vision but at the height of its realisation, the small blemishes that dirtied the otherwise pristine canvas’ of past releases wiped clean. In the past, the band has had the odd precarious stumble over awkward time signatures or in other cases lacked distinct melodies to drive tracks forward, these were rare occurrences but CH has worked wonders to tighten up their sound without sacrificing an ounce of their signature theatrics. 

For those unaware of what that sounds like, no doubt a lot of you (they’re not the first choice for KISS FM), allow me to shed some light on the subject. Like any great record, or any CH record for that matter, variety is integral. Fortunately, this is progressive metal and thus variety naturally comes in swathes, plus a small side of more variety if you don’t fancy the coleslaw. Previously released singles The Tempest, Slow Violence, Valkyrie and newcomer Oceanrise hoist the mainsail for the point A to point B prog bangers but, of course, I use the term in redundancy as these tracks are anything but straightforward. Sitting at a digestible 4-5 minutes in length, these tracks exhibit the CH balancing act between pounding, technical riffs and intoxicating lead work that delivers the heft, whilst Jim Grey’s outstanding vocals tempers the aggression through operatic falsetto. 

Slow Violence, in particular, is a radiant exemplification of the LP’s tighter songwriting with its snappy, distinct melodies layered over rhythm switches and dynamic riffs that maintain a display of ingenuity without ever feeling clumsy or overly-technical. Bringing things down to a simmer is Resonate, a mere morsel compared to its surrounding brethren. Not only does it leave space for the listener to breathe, enveloped in its warm synth keys and booming drums, but it solidifies what we already knew; that Jim Grey is a fantastic singer. Whether or not Grey’s vocals have evolved over time, I couldn’t tell you, but getting more of the same – in this case especially – is no complaint. His mastery between the short acerbic passages (Slow Violence, Valkyrie), the soaring chorus lines (The Tempest, Oceanrise) and the soft and sombre (Salt, Autumn) remains as enchanting as it did in 2011.

Despite the fact that I’ve already placed this album on a pedestal, decorated it with ribbon and even baked it a cake, I haven’t even got to the best bits. Well, you are supposed to leave the best ’til last right?

CH records are always replete with great tracks but there is always a small handful that elevates the record to something beyond ‘great’. Salt, Autumn and The Ascent fit the bill perfectly. There is a lot to unpack in each track but what I can say is that these are all clearly the work of scrupulously sculpting hands. Both Salt and Autumn boast exquisite soundscapes that swap out the heavy chugs of guitars for blissful serenity through piano and acoustics which, in true progressive fashion, is in a constant state of metamorphosis. I’ll happily admit that Salt, through the sheer power emanating from the rising instrumentation and Grey’s emotive cries (THAT chorus, holy hell), has brought me close to tears on each repetition; I’m no man of stone but it doesn’t happen all too often.

Closing the album in triumph is The Ascent, where the facets of Rise Radiant coalesce across 10-minutes of eargasmic prog metal on a cycle of swelling and deflating that gives CH ample opportunity to showcase each aspect of their craft.

Irritatingly, it was hard to uncover anything wrong with Rise Radiant. I can’t exactly fault the production, it’s as well balanced as it has always been if not with greater clarity than it’s predecessors, plus I enjoyed the subtle effects that suck in Grey’s vocals like on the first verse of Slow Violence. Any nitpicks then? A couple, but these really are the ‘nittiest’ of picks. For instance, the cut between Autumn and The Ascent is horrible, an oddly jarring transition considering how seamlessly other tracks flow together. I guess you could also say the album doesn’t take the band in any new directions, but would you really be upset if someone just keeps handing you gold year after year? Sounds ungrateful if you ask me.

You may have guessed by now, because I maintain all the subtlety of a firework display in a library, that Rise Radiant, alongside In Contact, is CH’s magnum opus. By definition, you can’t have multiple magnum opus’ (does opus even have a plural? Opie?) but for the sake of this review I’m going to have to tell the dictionary to do one. I love Rise Radiant. I think it’s brilliant. Five albums in and CH are shining at their brightest with innumerable amounts of potential to delve further into this most operatic of arenas they paint themselves within. Perhaps in a few years, CH will force-feed me my own words as I preach their next album is greater still but, until that day comes, Rise Radiant will remain the brightest star amongst a very bright sky. 

Rating: 9/10

Rise Radiant is released on Thursday 21 May

By Alex Mace

Feature Image Credit: InsideOutMusic

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