REVIEW: Caligula’s Horse – Charcoal Grace

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I guess time flies when the world is burning because there is no other way to explain that three long years have passed already since CALIGULA’S HORSE‘s haunting 2020 album “Rise Radiant.” The album still feels as relevant as ever and yet, these proggy Australians are returning to the frontline with another mind-blowing full-length endeavor “Charcoal Grace,” due out on January 26th, 2024, via InsideOut Music. In their own words, this sixth studio album overall resonates with the “grim allure and strange beauty in stillness, silence, and loss,” almost as though serving as a wrap-up of the dark pandemic years. Their previous album set the band’s star on the rise in the middle of a global shitshow, only to be put on hold with touring completely out of the agenda. In 2021, guitarist Adam Goleby left the band and things were looking quite bleak. This new selection is, once again, ample proof that you can use adversity as creative fuel to accomplish great things. These nine new tracks are a truly impressive sonic journey that traverses deep emotional landscapes, rolling out myriad mind-bending riffs, soaring melodies, and haunting vocals. In the spirit of old-school proggery, the centerpiece of the album is the titular four-part suite that has a total runtime of 24 minutes. In addition, the selection is bookended by two equally epic prog marathons, clocking in 10 and 12 minutes, respectively. What more could you ask for, really?

Released as the second single ahead of the album, “The World Breathes With Me” sets things in motion with 10 minutes of pristine atmospheric prog metal that resonates with the familiar air of their fellow Aussie proggers, such as KARNIVOOL, DEAD LETTER CIRCUS, and THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, as well as European acts such as HAKEN and even TESSERACT. Maybe I’m old-school or just weird but I always find it exceptionally awesome when bands put 10-minute epics as album openers, let alone release them as singles. Here, this behemoth of a song sets the tone for the whole album rather nicely. For the reasons as mentioned above, I presume, the mood on this new endeavor is substantially darker than on the previous effort.

Perhaps the thickest HAKEN vibes ooze from the lead single, “Golem.” The song is a tight, riff-driven banger with the title referring to the peculiar anthropomorphic clay creature of Jewish folklore. Given the overarching dark vibe of the album, this metaphor is quite poignant here; over the centuries, Golem has been used to connote isolation and despair – but also hope. While the lyrics deal with the struggles we all had with the weight of expectation through the pandemic, the mellow sections are tinted with a touch of hope, easing the weight of the world off our shoulders a little. On repeated listens the chorus proves diabolically catchy! I think I have found myself yet another power anthem!

The lyrics of the four-part suite are slightly reminiscent of MARILLION‘s “Childhood’s End,” with the impression that the story is about a child feeling abandoned and lost. Pretty heavy, eh? The first and last part of the suite rolls out the absolute heaviest moments on the album, both musically and lyrically. I must say this is quite a start for the year! If this album cannot make it to the top 10 on my Albums of the Year list, I guess the upcoming releases this year have to be something extraordinary! The heaviness is counterbalanced by the minimalist and atmospheric third part – and its free-floating ambiance is revisited in the track, “Sails” right after the suite as if to allow the listener some time to catch his breath after the suite’s emotional rollercoaster.

The emotional momentum is maxed again pretty soon, though. “The Stormchaser” comes off a haunting cross between KARNIVOOL and TESSERACT, by way of making slightly twisted time signatures and off-kilter riffs sound like the most natural thing in the world. Topped with the haunting delivery of vocalist Jim Grey, this song is one to give genuine goosebumps.

Modern Aussie prog bands have this one trait in common: the vocals may rip your heart out of your chest and, still, you just have to put the songs on repeat. So, it might take a while to finally get to the 12-minute epic doing the honors of bringing closure to this sonic journey. The closer, “Mute,” rolls out banging riffs and almost ballad-like moments of introspection, balancing between the haunting and intimate feel of SOEN at its most mellow and the charged, atmospheric prog-metal of, say, EARTHSIDE. The song even has a fairy-dusted flute section!

The New Year’s Eve festivities that we just had were all about ending the old year with a bang; these prog ruffians seem hellbent on starting this new year with a bang, too. This is one hell of a start for 2024 in terms of quality music!

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. The World Breathes With Me
  2. Golem
  3. Charcoal Grace I – Prey
  4. Charcoal Grace II – A World Without
  5. Charcoal Grace III – Vigil
  6. Charcoal Grace IV – Give Me Hell
  7. Sails
  8. The Stormchaser
  9. Mute

Lineup

Jim Grey – vocals

Sam Vallen – guitars

Josh Griffin – drums

Dale Prinsse – bass

Label

InsideOut Music

Links

https://www.facebook.com/caligulashorseband/

https://www.instagram.com/caligulashorse/