2011’s Moments from Ephemeral City established Australian quintet Caligula’s Horse as one of the top up-and-coming progressive metal acts worldwide. As it—and follow-ups The Tide, The Thief & River’s End (2013) and Bloom (2015)—showcased, the band’s knack for mesmerizing rhythms and riffs, enchanting melodies and vocals, alluringly poetic lyricism, and elegant dynamic shifts (between light and dark personas) is virtually unmatched by any stylistic sibling. Fortunately, the group’s fourth studio outing, In Contact, ranks alongside them as another beautiful, commanding, and all-around impressive album. While it doesn’t offer anything too surprising or outright outdo its predecessors, its emphasis on conceptuality, narration, and flow makes it their most focused, refined, and seamlessly sequenced work yet.
Storytelling and social commentary have always been a fruitful part of progressive music, and In Contact is no different. Specifically (and according to its press release), the record “discuss[es] the nature of art and creativity” and acts as ”a celebration of what connects us as human beings—the shared space across our many differences. Told over four separate chapters, it is an album full of deeply personal stories, characters with their own bittersweet hope and tragedy.” It’s also worth noting that this is their first release with newcomers Adrian Goleby (guitars) and Josh Griffin (drums), who replace Zac Greensill and Geoff Irish, respectively. Although these changes may only be noticeable to die-hard listeners—as each surely brings their own subtle flair to the role—there’s no doubt that both players help make the full-length very striking.
Opener “Dream the Dead” illustrates how In Contact offers some of the cleverest temperamental transitions in the fivesome’s discography. A thunderous blend of harsh chords, brutal syncopation, faint arpeggios, and soaring guitar lines soon gives way to a gentle backing as Jim Grey continues to shine as a singer. His harmonies and falsettos are especially affective and notable, helping him equal peers like Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT) and Einar Solberg (Leprous) in terms of impeccably forceful yet fragile renditions. Halfway through, lead guitarist Sam Vallen launches into a feisty guitar solo prior to a build-up of sparse, moody emotionality. From there, various elements come back for a transcendent, multilayered conclusion. It’s a striving, gorgeous, aggressive, and masterful starting point.
"Will’s Song (Let the Colors Run)” is far more crushing—evoking the hostile side of Haken—and “The Hands Are the Hardest” provides many angelic atmospheres and intriguing counterpoints while also packing in plenty of complex guitarwork and unpredictable rhythmic shifts. In contrast, “Love Conquers All” is an acoustic ballad with dim percussion that easily stands as one of the band’s most heartfelt and tasteful compositions to date. Grey sounds serene yet broken with every line, and in general, this three-track sequential set alone demonstrates how varied Caligula’s Horse can be.
One of the most interesting aspects of In Contact is its Shakespearean allusions. While the entire collection contains airs of comparable tragedy and conflict, two of its selections—“Capulet” and “Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall”—really drive it home. For one thing, the former piece is titled after one of the two families at the forefront of Romeo & Juliet. It’s fitting, then, that its music—another acoustic ode—is ripe with gorgeous heartache in the form of devastating melodies and discreet yet impactful arrangements. As for the latter, it’s remarkably atypical in that it’s a three-minute soliloquy whose dramatic outcries instantly conjure the Bard. Sure, it’s a bit long-winded and opaque at times, but there’s no denying the power of the performance and the ambition of its inclusion.
In Contact ends with “Graves,” a nearly sixteen-minute masterwork bursting with engaging changes and vibrant textures (including what sounds like a saxophone). It encapsulates all of the previous specialties (sans the monolog) and even concludes with invigorating chants that cement the overarching epic scale. It’s a breathtaking finale in terms of both narrative and musical arcs, and it further solidifies how special the album and its creators are. In Contact may feel a bit too familiar and/or tedious at times, but the vast majority of it is an astounding effort, making it one of the year's best progressive metal records thus far.