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Caligula's Horse - 'Charcoal Grace' Cover


Album Review: CALIGULA'S HORSE Charcoal Grace

9 Reviewer

The past few years have certainly been challenging for Australia's Caligula's Horse. After all, they've had to deal with the common setbacks of the COVID-19 pandemic and the departure of rhythm guitarist Adrian Goleby. Consequently, their latest record – Charcoal Grace – comes with especially high expectations since it needs to justify its lengthy gestation period amidst proving that the progressive metal ensemble can carry on as a quartet.

Unsurprisingly, the LP (which follows 2020's Rise Radiant) easily accomplishes both tasks. In fact, it's considerably lengthier but arguably more efficiently and smoothly structured, ensuring that every moment is powerful and each song connects to the ones around it with fluidity and purpose. Whether that means Charcoal Grace is the band's magnum opus thus far is obviously up to the listener, but at the very least, it leaves no doubt that Caligula's Horse have persevered exceptionally well.

Regarding the album's motivations and messages, the group explains that it was "borne of the static hopelessness that the pandemic forced upon [us], and indeed much of the world, these past few years. It is… geared, ultimately, towards catharsis – moving towards a more hopeful future after dealing with the largest setback [we] had ever experienced."

According to guitarist Sam Vallen, the LP "acted as a deliberate desertion of the Rise Radiant period – an acceptance that it, and everything it had promised our career in late 2019/2020, was gone, and that we would need to move on artistically. [It's about] the grim allure and strange beauty in stillness, silence, and loss."

Clearly, a lot of the record is deeply personal but overwhelmingly relatable.

Opener "The World Breathes with Me," for instance, is a multipart existential reflection full of moving atmospheres, in-your-face hooks, sophisticatedly dynamic playing, and mediative lyricism ("So tell yourself there's peace on Earth / The words that cost a weeping's worth / I hear the echoes in the dirt / When silence took the loudest first"). It captures everything that makes Caligula's Horse noteworthy while also acting as a contemplative reaction to present-day social and political contentions. Naturally, similarly intimate inspirations and erratic arrangements flow across a few other excellent tracks as well ("Golem," "Sails," "The Stormchaser," and closer "Mute").

That said, it's the roughly 24-minute four-part title track that impresses most due to its storytelling, variety, and cohesiveness. A fictionalized account of the unsteady relationship between a child and their parent, Vallen clarifies that it "explores cycles of abuse" alongside humanity's "responsibilities" and "the need for, and validity of, forgiveness." It runs the gamut of approaches and temperaments (including chilling soundscapes, acoustic respites, turbulent instrumentation, and of course, both fragile and furious singing). Cumulatively, it's among the most gratifyingly ambitious and meaningful undertakings in the group's recording career.

Charcoal Grace is an outstanding addition to Caligula's Horse already esteemed catalog, as it sees them rebounding from multiple hardships with superb creativity and endurance. Just about everything that fans could want is here, and beyond that, it's a terrific way to kickoff 2024's progressive metal lineup. Whether you're a returning follower or a newcomer, you'll surely find Charcoal Grace to be a deeply impressive and thoughtful journey from one of today's greatest genre torchbearers.

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What Rise Radiant lacks in breadth and variety—compared to its predecessor—it makes up for with its cohesiveness and refinement.