Album Review: CALIGULA'S HORSE Rise Radiant
With 2017’s In Contact, Australian quintet Caligula’s Horse set a new benchmark for delivering simultaneously thunderous and touching progressive metal odes that connect through an ambitious scope and larger-than-life narration. It's almost inarguably their greatest accomplishment yet, so they clearly had considerable pressure to compose a satisfying follow-up. Fortunately, they absolutely do with Rise Radiant. Although it’s a shorter and seemingly less striving declaration—coming across more like a superb collection of tracks than a grand unified statement—their fifth album houses virtually everything that makes the band so beloved. In particular, their mingling of intricate cleansing and mesmeric chaos remains second to none.
Rise Radiant is their first album with Dale Prinsse replacing original bassist Dave Couper (who left in 2018 for financial, artistic, and medical reasons). Of course, he fits right in, not only because of his inherent musicality, but also because he was already helping Caligula’s Horse engineer music and had worked with former guitarist Zac Greensill in his project, Opus of a Machine. Thematically and stylistically, the LP is justly billed as “an uncompromising exploration of the human experience dressed in vivid musical colour and virtuosic performances. . . . [It’s] an anthem for the regeneration of self-belief, an exploration of the themes of legacy, and a rallying cry for survival.” Despite its brevity and less integrated flow, there’s no denying that Rise Radiant finds the group at the peak of their powers once again.
“The Tempest” kicks things off with the requisite explosion of thrashing percussion, cyclical six-string patterns, aggressive synth/guitar riffs, and vigorously delicate singing (courtesy of Jim Grey, whose timbre is still eerily close to that of Leprous’ Einar Solberg). Expectedly, its subdued and antagonistic verses juxtapose well the triumphant and soaring chorus, instantly and completely enveloping you in its melancholic dominance. Truthfully, it’s nothing really new for Caligula’s Horse, but it solidifies how well they do what they do, and the instrumentation continues to complement Grey’s uproars as decoratively invigorating as ever.
Next, “Slow Violence” takes an even more stilted and sharp approach, allowing its djent irregularity to surround its soothing central hooks. A bit later, “Oceanrise” is especially tense and hostile before it becomes purifying, with Grey alternating between spiteful murmurs and falsetto outcries as it builds toward one of the band’s most toweringly emotive guitar solos. Luckily, the subsequent “Valkyrie” doubles down on those features while adding in a bit more dynamic flair. As for the lengthy closer, “The Ascent,” it’s easily the most epic and cumulative composition, with consistent and seamless transitions between light and dark temperaments keeping you glued to where it’s going next. There’s an overarching sense of romantic tragedy that’s enhanced through periodic choral commentaries and soft-spoken realizations. It’s easily one of Caligula’s Horse’s best pieces to date.
Naturally, the quintet’s gentler side is interwoven into virtually every track, with a handful of them doing an especially sublime job of demonstrating the group’s more elegant and calm persona. For instance, “Resonant” is a magnificent respite from anarchy, with multilayered observations joining to soothe and intrigue over electronic percussion and other faint textures. Likewise, “Autumn” serves as an awe-inspiringly ornate acoustic ballad that’s irresistibly tasteful, beautiful, moving, and dense. Caligula’s Horse have rarely offered something so classily cathartic before. That said, the greatest moment on Rise Radiant comes in the middle of “Salt,” when the opening piano motif transforms into a bonded cascade of angelic singing and serene arrangements. It’s breathtakingly hypnotic and sophisticated in ways that few, if any, of their genre peers could match.
What Rise Radiant lacks in breadth and variety—compared to its predecessor—it makes up for with its cohesiveness and refinement. No matter which side of Caligula’s Horse appeals to you more (their in-your-face coagulations or their tenderly graceful contemplations), you’ll find that they’re on top of their game every step of the way. As always, there’s a perpetual air of poetic release and meticulous artistry that continues to elevate the band above virtually any other act aiming for the same sort of progressive metal poignancy. They may not have outdone themselves with Rise Radiant, but they come damn close.