Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant
Progressive Metal | Heavy Metal | Progressive Rock
Sometimes context is everything. No man is an island after all, and so it stands to reason that no album exists in a vacuum. Examining where a record sits within the bigger picture can sometimes be every bit as important as the body of work itself. However, occasionally the scale can tip too far the other way, and it becomes almost impossible to appreciate a record for what it is when it lives in the shadow of everything that has come before. The new record from Australian prog outfit Caligula’s Horse falls into this exact trap. The band have been on such a winning streak, establishing themselves as modern titans of the genre, that this latest effort falls short of hitting the high standard that they’ve set for themselves.
To be fair making a follow up to 2017’s In Contact, one of the best albums of the past decade, was always going to be a challenge, but even so the band seem to be playing it safe with Rise Radiant. It shows the band at both their heaviest and their most gentle (though predominantly the former) and in doing so it lacks much of the nuance and subtlety of the middle ground. Tracks like ‘The Tempest’, ‘Slow Violence’ and ‘Valkyrie’, straightforward in-your-face rockers, make up the bulk of the record. Beyond the gargantuan riffs, hitting you full on like a blow to the head from a blunt instrument, they don’t have all that much to offer. They’re not bad by any means; the production is immaculate, the musicianship is tighter than a tourniquet, and Jim Grey unquestionably remains one of the best metal vocalists around. Even so, much of the record fails to feel compelling, and instead comes across as very ‘by the numbers’.
It’s on Rise Radiant‘s final two tracks that the band really show what they’re made of. The delicate folky build-up on ‘Autumn’ really highlights the band’s mesmerising command of melody. It’s hands down the most beautiful song they’ve penned to date. Grey’s vocals are stunning even by his standards, the expressive bass interlude midway through is one of my favourite little moments of instrumentation from 2020, and the song shows that even quiet moments can be epic and commanding when done right. Meanwhile the ten minute closing track ‘The Ascent’ is neck and neck with ‘Graves’ to take the prize as their most impressive and ambitious work yet. It takes the heaviness present in the rest of the album but brings a higher level of intricacy and musicality to the table. With an excellent feeling of light and shade throughout, and with an absolutely blistering guitar solo towards the tail end, this track is worth the price of admission all on its own.
Released by someone else I would probably have had a lot more appreciation for Rise Radiant on its own merits, and perhaps it is a record that will grow on me over time, but at the moment it doesn’t really capture my imagination for the most part. It’s enjoyable but sadly also a little too forgettable in places. It’s not as fresh and exciting as The Tide, The Thief & River’s End, it’s not as accessible and engaging as Bloom, and nor is it as grand, varied and ambitious as In Contact. It’s a good album by any metric, but stacked against a series of great albums it can’t be called essential listening.