Review Summary: Gravity is growth, we’re not there yet.
Groove has always been an interesting concept to me. Especially within rock and metal there are entire genres dedicated to making the music as energetic and ‘groovy’ as possible, from djent to thrash and from metalcore to nu-metal. All of these genres have a specific element very much in common: both the groove and aggression take precedent over melody and lyricism. For me personally, I get the most enjoyment when bands in these genres incorporate melody and interesting or unconventional songwriting into their music. The melodic hooks are often the most alluring parts of these songs and very much fuel the music as a whole. What I find far more interesting though, is when the opposite happens. When a very melodically driven band decides to have their focal point be groove and aggression. This is when rare magic happens and bands evolve into the unexpected.
Caligula’s Horse have taken this route on their new album Rise Radiant
. Five albums into their career, the five-piece from down under have left overwhelming evidence of melodic fortitude. Both Jim Grey’s angelic vocal lines and Sam Vallen’s smooth feel for melodic guitar lines and solos have made Caligula’s Horse one of the most interesting modern prog-rock bands. Where 2017’s In Contact
concentrated on its concept and storytelling, Rise Radiant
fixates much more on progressive riffs and auditory violence. They are not doing this particularly smoothly either, ramping up as the album goes along. No, they wanted to make a statement to leave us no doubts as to where the new album was going. Thirty seconds into lead single and album opener “The Tempest” and we are treated with one of the tastiest and heaviest riffs of the band's career. Throughout the album, songs like “Slow Violence”, “Oceanrise” and “Valkyrie” continue this trend with (relatively) short and very hard hitting songs that are direct, in your face and instantly memorable.
The beauty of Rise Radiant
is that the melodic elements are so ingrained into Caligula’s Horse as a band, that there is never even a chance of aggression taking the upper hand over melody. Jim Grey delivers the best vocal performance of his career, so even when a song hits like a sledgehammer on a squirrel there is always an interesting and often soaring vocal line elevating the grounded instrumentals. To balance the record there are a couple of songs that take the foot off the gas and center around either storytelling and catharsis, like in album highlight “Salt”, or around quiet reflection, such as the short but sweet “Resonate” or the gorgeous and emotional “Autumn”. This juxtaposition of groove and melody makes for a record with pitch perfect cadence and exquisite pacing. The album flies by and the eight songs are over before I feel like I’ve had enough of it.
Is there nothing wrong with Rise Radiant
then? Not entirely. Even though there is not a single sub-par song on display here, the highs are just not as high as on In Contact
. There is no heavy emotional pay-off like there was in “Graves”, nor a song as uplifting as “Songs for No One”. As a whole, In Contact
was a magnificent concept record whereas this 'just' feels like a collection of great songs. For new listeners though, this is the perfect entry point and all the songs themselves make great highlights out of every playlist put on shuffle. I would therefore definitely not quantify Rise Radiant
as a step down, but rather as a step sideways which gives the band time to see where they want to go from here.