CALIGULA’S HORSE is an acclaimed band in the neoprog community these days. Their third album, “Bloom” (2015), was a huge success both commercially and musically, blending smart STEELY DAN -influenced melodicism with djenty rhythmical complexity. Their next record, “In Contact,” refined the formula, yet already then I had a fear that band would struggle with exploring new territories in the future and try to play it safe. Their latest album, “Rise Radiant,” was released via InsideOut Music on May 22nd, 2020.
The album kicks off with a 4-minute song, “The Tempest,” which I can only describe as… boring and predictable. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good solid song, absolutely in canon of CH, and this is the problem. It follows a prog metal song pattern that we all know very well: there is an epic intro with arpeggios and long sustained chords, followed by a breakdown, then a dynamically weaker verse that falls into a bombastic chorus. Repeat the pattern twice, give the guitarist a solo, and end on a breakdown. This song is a beautifully executed chameleon of all the tropes of the genre.
“Slow Violence” is not very much different, but the main groove saves it a lot – it’s just very catchy. I also liked it a lot when the drummer doubles time under it, giving the song a lot of momentum instantly. The guitar solo was okay, nicely supported by the drummer with fills.
With “Salt,” the band finally starts showing their colors: beautiful chord progressions with unexpected turns and dynamic falls and rises. I adore the soft section which starts around 3:40, reminiscent of something Haken could’ve done but with the CH signature tenderness. The only criticism would be the length. The reuse of the same elements is creative but gets a bit dull 6 minutes in.
It is a rarity when a metal band can pull off work with synths and samples… and this is not the case with “Resonate.” The synth-drum pattern is not engaging and the atmospheric mush of reverb-y pads and guitars just lazily coats the ears, while the vocals are also uninteresting. It is, of course, supposed to be a chill-out intermission track, but my immediate reaction was to skip it, not to chill out to it.
“Oceanrise”; see “Tempest.” Unfortunately, this track has the same typical neoprog song structure as the first. This one has a very good solo though and the tone and the way the guitarist interpreted the main melody of the song are enjoyable. I also enjoyed the sudden parallel minor chord in the chorus, that was tasty. The chorus of “Valkyrie” is a banger, no question about it. In general, this is one of the best tracks on the album, reminding us what the word “progressive” means – a rollercoaster of dynamic, structural, and technical complexity that keeps listener engaged throughout.
Ladies and gentlemen (and all the non-binary folks), we have a ballad here. Why are all ballads in waltz (3⁄4) meter? Nevertheless, I like this “Autumn.” It is slightly on the cheesy side (all love songs are bound to be in our meta-modern reality), but it builds up really well until it becomes this huge sonic power, taking you with it. Also, bass solo. I repeat: bass solo.
The breakdown in the beginning of “The Ascent” is really good and the fact that it gets developed in the middle of the song and becomes the foundation for a guitar solo is really cool. I also enjoyed the OPETH-esque acoustic intermission. In general, this song kind of reminds me of Mikael Åkerfeldt’s songwriting, which is never bad.
The album closes with two covers, the first being Peter Gabriel‘s “Don’t Give Up.” It doesn’t seem like Jim Grey’s vocals work very well with this one. They’re too soft, too mellow and high, and there is not enough power to it. The second is “Message to My Girl” and is very enjoyable, complimenting SPLIT ENZ‘ original by translating well to CH‘s sound. Good job.
Overall, this album is weaker than the material that made CH famous, precisely because my fear came true: the guys found a formula and stuck with it. It does not mean, however, that there are no interesting tracks and moments on this record – of course there are – but you’d probably rather cherry-pick those couple of songs that stand out rather than listen to the album as a whole.
Written by Fedor Bezrukov
- The Tempest
- Slow Violence
- The Ascent
- Don’t Give Up (Peter Gabriel cover)
- Message to My Girl (Split Enz cover)
Jim Grey – lead vocals
Sam Vallen – lead guitar, “everything else”
Adrian Goleby – guitar
Dale Prinsse – bass
Josh Griffin – drums