Live Review: Caligula’s Horse, Star & Garter Manchester, 5th Nov 2018

Caligula's horseThough Bonfire Night is traditionally celebrated with fireworks, I spent mine with something just as exciting and vibrant, albeit even louder; the brilliant Caligula’s Horse on their first headline European tour. Though I was a bit late to the game regarding their latest record, 2017’s In Contact, it has quickly become one of my favourite releases of recent years and has been one of my main go-to albums. So naturally I wasn’t going to miss out on seeing them, along with a few of their friends from back home, for an all out Australian invasion on the penultimate stop of their tour. After all, if anyone knows how to have a good time it’s the Aussies. 

Leading the charge however was an outfit from a bit closer to home. Hailing from Manchester (with a welcome dash of Yorkshire for good measure), Sertraline certainly didn’t ease us in gently with their gargantuan riffs. Their charismatic frontwoman had superb stage presence, and while I’m not a fan of harsh vocals, her clean vocals really brought new depth to the songs. Having so many people bounding about on such a small stage must surely be a health and safety nightmare, their headbanging choreography needed to be as intricate as their riffs to avoid crashing into each other, but there’s no denying they were the perfect act to start the night and get the crowd whipped up into a frenzy.

Instrumental trio I Built The Sky can walk a fine line between beauty and barbarism with the best of them, recalling the likes of Plini and Animals As Leaders. They’re also, and I mean this in the best possible sense, utterly bonkers. Their guitarist, whenever he wasn’t busy weaving intricate melodies in some of the best guitar work I’ve ever seen live, seemed to spend half the set amongst the crowd. Weaving his way through the room, riding around on people’s shoulders, and initiating a “high-five wall of death”. Pairing their antics with their super slick set, they’re the kind of band that makes you forget they’re the opening act, as everything about their performance screams main event.

Though I feel like they forgoed the finesse shown by the other bands at times to double down on their aggressive doom laden riffs, Circles certainly had their moments. On tracks where they changed up the pace and explored some of their softer side, the band showed superb light and shade and displayed the full range of their talents. The frontman’s vocals showed great range and versatility, their guitarists employed some unique tones and navigated some complex math rock sections, but it was their drummer who really stole the show. He was playing like his life depended on it. They occasionally veered too far into territory a tad too heavy for my tastes, but a supremely talented group nonetheless.

Bringing together all the best elements of each band that preceded them, and adding plenty of their own flair to the mix, Caligula’s Horse ended the night in style. Most of their set consisted of tracks from In Contact and, as much as ‘Rust’ is an absolute force of nature, I was completely absorbed in hearing the songs from the latest record take on new life onstage. ‘Songs For No One’ was nothing short of faultless, and seeing the many facets of the quarter-hour epic ‘Graves’ pieced together before my eyes has given me an even greater appreciation of the track. The dynamic interplay between the two guitarists was immensely impressive to behold, and the calls of “hands shape stone” are enough to make even the meekest fan feel mighty.

When listening to progressive music sometimes your brain just doesn’t fully process it. As such there were more than a few “holy shit” moments when watching a labyrinthine guitar solo unfold that seemed impossible for actual human fingers to accomplish, or hearing the incomparable Jim Grey hold soaring angelic notes that a betting man would have said were studio trickery. The band were utterly note perfect to the studio versions, and to be able to unleash such complex and compelling music in such a slick fashion, all while keeping up a light-heartened and companionable atmosphere, is astonishing. I get the impression I likely won’t see its like again until the band next make their way to the UK. One thing is for sure, it was one 5th of November that’s not likely to be forgotten anytime soon by those lucky enough to have been there.