Caligula’s Horse is one of those bands I managed to get out in front of because of my Angry Metal Father-in-Law. Turns out that a guy who owns every cool record since 1975 is still on the hunt for great music—and the more obscure the better—so he has his ear to the ground in the progressive metal scene in a way that constitutes a second job. He’s fond of things that are djenty—being a drummer and a lifelong prog fan—and a couple years ago he introduced me to Caligula’s Horse. I promptly picked up The Tide, the Thief, and River’s End, and was impressed by its depth, complexity and feel. I had not heard that they had been signed by InsideOut Music until I received Bloom in my email. So why no review until now? Unfortunately, life happened and the review slipped, and slipped, and slipped… But I’m here to finish what I started and to let you on to a great record we missed in October.
Bloom reminds me of this new wave of progressive metal and rock in a post-90s world. No longer do bands try to ape Dream Theatre; rather, they’re loaded for bear with fat bass, groove-laden drums, and beefy chug that we never would have heard from the noodly prog of the 1980s. Caligula’s Horse lands in the Haken, Soen, and Leprous box and are a meaningful addition to this pantheon of new prog heroes. The song-writing is smart and works perfectly with Jim Grey’s cherubic cleans. While Grey doesn’t have an extremely distinctive voice—in fact, he at times really reminds me of a more refined version of Haken‘s Ross Jennings—his tone and delivery is as smooth as a baby’s bum. Grey also differentiates Caligula’s Horse from its more djenty contemporaries by not sounding like a little boy; instead showing off range and power more akin to metal vocalists than pop punk singers.
Of their comparative peers, Caligula’s Horse is probably the least ostentatiously progressive, but what they have in spades is cohesive songwriting. They write slick tracks, binding heaviness and borderline tech (“Marigold”) with expansive melancholy (“Dragonfly”). They can knock out tracks that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear on the radio (“Rust” – my least favorite on the album) or extremely epic and catchy choruses (“Turntail”), but songs like “Daughter of the Mountain” and “Firelight” show off their progressive credentials. Even closing anthem “Undergrowth” pretty much convinced me that I’d purchase an acoustic record written by these gentlemen. The variety of styles and the ease with which the band moves between them demonstrates a love for, and mastery of, varied influences and styles. Such twists and turns call to mind bands like The Dear Hunter, Katatonia, or even Swedish gladprog Kaipa.
If there’s one downside here, I think it’s that Bloom is less varied in its writing than its predecessor. Certain quotes or melodies, phrasing and tone can make Bloom seem repetitive. And while Grey is a dynamic singer, one can get the sense he thinks a song isn’t a good song unless he’s used every last octave in his range. But since this record is littered with excellent moments, stellar performances from all the musicians—once again putting on display the immense talent that seems to be cropping up in the Australian scene—and only a single misstep in “Burn,” this nagging sense of repetition is merely background noise.
If you’re still looking for great prog you missed in 2015, look no further than Caligula’s Horse. For older fans and djentlemen Bloom is quite a bit less chunky and lilting than its predecessor. But for me there was no dissonance at all with my expectations, with Bloom sounding like a Caligula’s Horse record. Bloom retains the tone, even if it is less techy and less obvious to categorize via its production.1 Having been signed to InsideOut, I look forward to watching these guys break into the consciousness of the prog and metal world, and Bloom is a great first step.
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom, tracks to check:
“Dragonfly,” “Daughter of the Mountain,” and “Marigold” (which is like SotY material—check out this amazing live version before it gets taken down)
- It has a DR6 like its predecessor, and I’m fairly certain the new one is produced by guitarist Vallen (but I can’t find that information anywhere, so correct me if I’m wrong). This record doesn’t sound as ‘scene’, though. It has a more natural sound, even if it is quite loud and sounds like most major label when it lands on the chuggy side. ↩