Caligula's Horse
Charcoal Grace


4.0
excellent

Review

by bowlermicah USER (1 Reviews)
January 26th, 2024 | 73 replies


Release Date: 01/26/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: After struggling through the pandemic, Caligula's Horse return as triumphant as ever

Caligula’s Horse had a rough time during the pandemic. Like other bands, they had to cancel tour dates, and send an album out into the world without any live representation. I enjoyed Rise Radiant a lot. It’s the album that introduced me to the band and provided a hopeful backdrop to a time in my life (and mostly everyone’s I imagine) when things were feeling very grim and unpredictable.

While having to be still in the pandemic, it seems Caligula’s Horse struggled with a lot of things. When can we tour again? Can this band continue as our primary focus? Can humanity not devolve into “every man for himself” and band together for the good of everybody for once? That last question seems to be a driving theme behind Charcoal Grace, an album that is immediately grimmer than its predecessor. This comes across in singer Jim Grey’s lyrics, as well as the compositions that main songwriter/guitar virtuoso Sam Vallen writes this time around.

Where Rise Radiant seemed to streamline the more progressive tendencies of its predecessor In Contact, and take a more traditional songwriting approach, Charcoal Grace harkens back to In Contact in a lot of ways. The album’s centerpiece, a 24 minute, four-song suite called Charcoal Grace, ebbs and flows in ways that Rise Radiant never did. Where Rise Radiant was very eager to get to a hook, or to never let an instrumental section overstay it’s welcome, the title track suite allows for plenty of room to breathe, with softer passages, with only acoustic guitars (Vigil), loud sections with some of the heaviest Caligula’s Horse instrumentation to date (Give Me Hell), plenty of instrumental sections, and plenty of guitar solos, most of which are emotive, and seem to serve the song and not just to be virtuosic for the sake of it (A World Without containing one of my favorites).

Placing a 24-minute epic in the middle of your album is an interesting choice. Normally we see the big epic towards the end of the album on progressive metal albums like this one, but putting it in the middle allows for some thoughtful sequencing. Before we get to the epic, we have two singles, The World Breathes With Me and Golem. The World Breathes With Me is a 10-minute opener, basically giving you a crash course of what to expect sonically on the rest of the album. It opens with a 3-minute instrumental section with a guitar solo, before we get a hushed Jim Grey melody before opening up in the chorus. The highlight of the song is the outro, featuring an absolute earworm of a riff, that lasts just long enough to leave you wanting more, which seems to be a running theme on the album. Golem, on the other hand, is the outlier from the album. Featuring one of the more traditional song structures on the album, and more straightforward djent riffs, it’s the perfect first single, bridging the new and old, sounding the most like Rise Radiant than any other song here. Jim here self admittedly starts employing a Michael Jackson-esque cadence in his vocals, adding an almost percussive tone to his delivery. It works to his advantage, and gives a nice variance compared to his normally straight forward choir-like voice.

After the title track, we soften things up a bit with Sails and The Stormchaser, the former of which is a pallet cleanser ballad, a la Resonate or Love Conquers All, and the latter being an emotional high point on the album, putting Jim’s vocals at the forefront with a ferociously delivered bridge that makes it very clear how Jim feels about how humanity as a whole reacted to the pandemic.

Where the last album finished with back-to-back songs in Autumn and The Ascent that worked better together than separately, Mute, the closer, makes a pair with the opener, even sharing melodic callbacks in guitars, keyboards, and even a vocal melody at the end that is pulled from the outro of The World Breathes With Me. Being just as epic in scope and execution as the opener (flute solo included), Mute ties the album up well, and it’s connection to the opener brings a sense of continuity to the whole album.

Caligula’s Horse survived the pandemic, and self admittedly they weren’t always sure that was going to be the case. They seem to be stronger now than ever, as Charcoal Grace builds on what previous albums did well and adds in a few new wrinkles for an easy frontrunner for progressive album of the year.


user ratings (149)
3.8
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
Fowo
January 26th 2024


712 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Good album but honestly, I kinda wish they experimented a little more with their sound which didn't change a whole lot over past few years



Still, good review, posd

Pikazilla
January 26th 2024


28994 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

this and rise radiant are easily their worst

bowlermicah
January 26th 2024


196 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"Still, good review, posd"

Thank you! I've lurked this site for a long time and thought this would be a good place to get my feet wet, with a band I'm very familiar with.

They definitely aren't treading a lot of new ground that hasn't been explored before, but they've covered so much ground already, it's kind of hard to pinpoint where they need to change. I could maybe point to The Stormchaser, and say THAT is what they need to use as a blueprint for future releases. I think of Leprous, in the transition from The Congregation to Malina and then Pitfalls, where The Congregation kind of felt like the end of the road for them as far as what they could do with a heavy, technical, aggressive album, and focusing more on the tight songwriting aspect and more vocal centered outings.

warlordfun
January 26th 2024


453 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Amazing album one of their best!

Tundra
January 26th 2024


9311 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

"I'm on the Caligula's Horse hype train" nah, more like "I'm on the Caligula's Horse co..." wait wut

bowlermicah
January 26th 2024


196 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I never understood why people censor themselves on the internet.

Purpl3Spartan
January 26th 2024


8168 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is very fun so far

Zac124
January 26th 2024


2344 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Great review. Pos! This was really good and cannot wait to play through it again. The World Breathes With Me and Give Me Hell are probably my highlights on first listen.

Ectier
January 27th 2024


2386 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Im sticking with a 4 atm. Charcoal Grace was a wonderful stretch

bellovddd
January 27th 2024


5179 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

love this band. album is great

ShapeOfJizzToCum
January 27th 2024


824 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Maybe not as good as In Contact but it's a great step in the direction away from Rise Radiant, agreed.



Sure to be some growers here and I've only listened a couple times at work so I need to give it some more focused listens, but this has been really enjoyable so far.

"I never understood why people censor themselves on the internet."

ShapeofJ*zztoC*m

wildinferno2010
January 27th 2024


1847 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

God I hope I like this. I haven't enjoyed their last couple of albums nearly as much as everyone else did, I'm just sitting here hoping they write more albums like Bloom

Ectier
January 27th 2024


2386 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This is their best album as a whole piece for me, i rarely listen to these guys albums im full its usually just jamming certain tracks

ShapeOfJizzToCum
January 27th 2024


824 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

More I listen the more I enjoy it, as a whole it's def one of the best but maybe doesn't reach the peaks of IC or Bloom

lastmilefire
January 27th 2024


2 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thoroughly digging this one. Definitely allowed themselves to explore where the music takes them a bit more on this one than Rise Radiant. I think this and In Contact, are my personal faves for them. We will see the staying power of this one.

Fowo
January 27th 2024


712 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

@wildinferno2010



Oh well I'm still hoping they get more stuff in the vein of The Tide, the Thief and River's End

Beardog
January 27th 2024


4841 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

The Stormchaser is a cool song for sure

bowlermicah
January 27th 2024


196 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

So in my review I compare Rise Radiant and this one a lot, normally to point out where I like the changes, but it is worth mentioning this is much less immediate than Rise Radiant, with less choruses/repeating parts. If that was a big draw for you, this album will be a tougher sell. I like putting in the work to try and find all the subtle melodies and parts to latch on to.

Ectier
January 27th 2024


2386 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Title track i looooove

wildinferno2010
January 27th 2024


1847 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

@Fowo that would be sick, I'd take it. I feel like their songs back then were a lot catchier, the style of riffing was just better imo



Liking this more than Rise Radiant so far though, so that's nice



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