Review Summary: A chronicle of four individual Artists and their internal, tragic struggles.
I first became an Arcane fan – probably around 2+ years ago. I recall discovering a list on Sputnik likening some of Arcane's music to that of Tool. I found that the similarity was limited to the vocals – regardless, I was an instant fan. The Arcane lead singer, Jim Grey, brings an intensity and storytelling lyrical style like few others. As such, it was a natural progression to discover Caligula's Horse, also with Jim Grey at the helm.
Jim Grey is no stranger to writing a concept album. Arcane's Known/Learned double album in 2015 was written to narrate the life and journey of a father and daughter. When I found out that the 2017 In Contact album also had an overarching concept, I yearned to discover more. My high level interpretation of the concept follows, based on interviews with Caligula's Horse on YouTube, and my own interpretation of the lyrical content of the individual tracks. The album is divided into four chapters, each describing a separate artistic protagonist. My interpretation below has been broken up by chapter, and where appropriate, by track. Note, that I will not be speaking to the music itself, which is indeed a noteworthy and substantial contribution to the progressive metal cannon.
Chapter 1 - To the Wind.
Tracks 1 to 3, from “Dream the Dead” to “The Hands are the Hardest”, tell the tragic story of a recovering alcoholic painter. Although attempting to get sober, his fans demand more of his work. Unfortunately, due to “trembling hands” while sober, he is best able to prepare his paintings under the influence. Without alcohol (“the poison”), he is “like the window in the water” and “the hands are the hardest always”. Alcohol (“the cure”) makes him “feel alive like the light through dreamer's eyes” and allows him “to build a world for a moment”. The painter debates whether to ignore the pleas of his fans and stay sober, or to dive into the bottle and paint. Self control and stopping himself is the hardest part. His fans are willing to sacrifice him for a piece of his art. At the same time, he hasn't lost what he has in his old age and wants to prove that he still has what it takes - “I am that young man still”. He decides to commit to the bottle. “Seeing in colour now”, he does one last painting (“let the colours run”) to “give them something to live for”. In the end, he finds that one “can't stop what you've begun, like can't drown the morning sunlight”.
Track 4, “Love Conquers All”, is a flashback to the painter's desire for sobriety. He lost his battle (“mountain mine, I lost my fight”), and realizes that he needs to make healthier choices to live and put his life before the wants of others. However, as a result, he loses his musing “without the sweet taste on my tongue”.
Chapter 2 - The Caretaker.
The track “Songs for No One” tells the story of a Musician/songwriter/composer, in a similar vein to Mozart, who provides music for his patrons. At the same time, he sleeps with their wives and daughters. Ironically, he falls in love with one of his male patrons. He enters into a secret gay relationship, where he can't expose himself (or be open) - “Safe from prying eyes, this is who we are”. But he wants to be a force of positivity (“build me a garden by God, I will care for it”, “let me be music and let me be the joyful sound”) and an enemy to negative feeling (“the cracking wall you grip when the current starts”). “We sing to the weeping widow, we sing to the the dying dirt, we sing to the day that we are old light falling to Earth”.
The track “Capulet” is about the musician embracing his secret gay relationship - his element of tragedy, but also his muse. “Fearless, let them see, let it be us in the void, I see you stand as one in the fire, wearing this love”.
Chapter 3 - Ink.
The track “Fill my heart” tells the story of a poet (named “Ink”) living in a cyber punk futuristic world. Raised on the street and influenced by his brother (“two of them stood”), he has reached/infiltrated into the dirty, grungy city and is loved by all in the underworld. He sees the cracks in the city and, like his brother, wants to make it a better place. Tragically, he loses his brother and becomes increasingly cynical (“the rot took its root in my home”). He laments that the people “can't see the bridge for the blackness, the spite for the start and even the words as they flow from the fountain”.
“Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall” is a spoken word track. It captures the poet's cynical view of the people and city (“this whole ***ing city's rotten to the core”). He struggles whether to take his departed brother's advice, to take all negativity and turn to positivity, or to alternately let it burn (“cry havoc”). The words “This lonely boy chewed up and swallowed by streets, spit, famine and rats” seem to be the Poet's own. His “reach” begins to falter.
The track “Cannon's Mouth” is the tipping point. The poet has lost his barometer and positivity, due to his brother's death. He yells out his feelings on the roof - “You have the choice: saint or the beast, prove you can be force fed war and spit peace”. Jim Grey envisioned that the poet's words would incite a riot, with opposing gangs coming together and clashing with a corrupt police force. The riot leading to a critical decision point – to fall one way or another.
Chapter 4 - Graves.
The track “Graves” tells the story of a sculptor who works with his hands (“These Hands shaped stone”). He is riddled with anxiety and self-doubt, leading him to the delusion that a rival (“he was always the better”) is stealing his work and publishing earlier.
The Sculptor finds out that he will be a father. He is fearful (“what kind of father could I be?”) and ponders how this will affect his artistry. However, the value of family centers him (“all was reconciled when I held my child, naked in the wild”) and his mind is quieted.
His anxiety comes back again and again (“rising waves cry”), and becomes too much. Believing that his magnum opus was stolen, the sculptor decides to either take violent vengeance (“to breath and let it be the lion”) against his rival (“the liar”) or stay with his family. Knowing that his family understands his anger (“she married my anger too”) and “that she won't forgive him”, he decides in the end to “reconcile”.