I was hugely impressed by Caligula’s Horse last album “In Contact” (2017), and the way they stepped up to the plate and proved worthy of being the main headliners at ProgPower Europe in 2018. “Rise Radiant” is the Australian progressive metal band’s fifth album release.
All the signs are of something epic. The prog explosion which follows on “The Tempest” could be seen as a bit hackneyed and a typical start to a live concert, but Caligula’s Horse make hay with a nice keyboard accompaniment and an epic chorus. Instrumentally it’s expansive and powerful. The vocals are a bit weak for my liking but others would argue they are vulnerable. Deep, funky prog guides us through “Slow Violence”. The lowered vocals work better this time. The catchy chorus belies the dark lyrics. Funkily it progresses with dark djenty sounds, accompanied by nice harmonies. A good song. I know I’ve gone on record before as saying that Caligula’s Horse’s vocalist Jim Grey sounds like George Michael, and I’m going to say it again after hearing “Salt”. I mean that in a complimentary way. Our man Jim puts real expression into this essentially mellow track, at one point entering the world of Haken’s Ross Jennings with a quirky little vocal touch. Thematically it’s pure prog – reaching to the skies and with mystifying lyrics like “This softness I’m waiting weightless for” – I’ll leave it to a student of GCSE English to work that one out. As a song, it’s very Haken and if you’d said to me beforehand it was them, I’d have believed you.
“Resonate” continues in the same soft and, I guess, weightless vein. With an equally mellow backing, this is one for a balmy evening under soft lights. The antithesis of harsh lockdown, I suppose, and it’s a nice, if not exactly mind-blowing song. I’d rather hoped that it might get a bit livelier so I wasn’t thrilled to hear Mr Grey’s somnolent tones again. But very quickly an Opethian section hits the air, before the Caligulans go into a thumping heartfelt multi-coloured piece of prog technicality. Again, I was at a loss to know what “Oceanrise” was about – the theme of water and oceans and such like are always handy for expressing human emotion, but I’m none the wiser – but it’s a nice, vibrant song. “Valkyrie” has a funkily heavy riff, momentarily distracting me from these incomprehensible lyrics, which were starting to obsess me. Mr Grey’s higher end warblings for me stood behind the light and dark shades of the instrumental sections which combine to exciting effect. To be fair to Mr Grey, he provides the breathing behind the colourful life that his fellow Caligulans were depicting with their music. Is it possible to bleed impossible? Well it is if you’re Caligula’s Horse. Good song though. So is “Autumn”, at least in its delivery. It’s not my thing really, but many will appreciate the soft and swaying melancholy of it. The start of “The Ascent” reminded me of “The Tempest” with its bombast, but it’s a false dawn as it quietens down and Mr Grey delicately tells his tale. Again, I don’t really know what his verbal imagery was driving at, but the structure of this song is magnificent. Rise Radiant, which is a lyric on “The Ascent”, indeed. “The Ascent” is heartfelt, epic, reflective – with the aid of the instrumentalists, we float on its emotional cloud. And the chorus is totally epic. The way “The Ascent” is shaped, it’s like an uplifting prog hymn. What a super finish.
To be honest, I was more at ease with “In Contact” than this, but I give credit to Caligula’s Horse for being bold with “Rise Radiant”. They’re not frightened to be reflective and emotional when they want to be, while at other times their instrumentals are dark and pack a punch. It’s quite a mix, and it kind of works, thanks in no small part to the dexterity of the musicians who do what prog artists do and create expressive vistas.
(7.5/10 Andrew Doherty)