Charcoal Grace by Caligula's Horse

Release date: January 26, 2024
Label: InsideOut Music

So this who we are
Forced to want to watch the sorrow
The short leash and the led
The suicide, the addict, the voyeur, the dead.

To open a lyric like that from ‘The World Breathes With Me’, takes courage on a lot of strength for vocalist Jim Grey opening up Pandora’s box by witnessing someone on the brink of a mental breakdown. Following-up to their 2020 release Rise Radiant, fellow Brisbane maestros Caligula’s Horse have taken the sword once more as they head back into the battlefield with their new album Charcoal Grace.

The themes behind the album tackles the subject of being hopeless nearly four years ago when the world came to a screeching halt during the pandemic. It comes to an understanding on how we are on the same boat as the outcome gets even more and more relief on looking forward to the future.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m new to the band’s music. Since their formation in early 2011, and taken their name of the Roman emperor’s prized possession horse, Incitatus, the origins of the band started with Grey on vocals and Vallen playing multiple instruments. But once their debut album Moments from Ephemeral City was released independently, they expanded from a duo to expanding the line-up.

So far, the band have released five studio albums. And despite line-up changes, Caligula’s Horse have kept the legacy of the genre between progressive rock and progressive metal alive. Listening to Charcoal Grace is like going through a survival of the fittest during those heady times. Not only there’s the complex signatures, but pushing through to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

 

The clashing between Prinsse and Vallen’s playing on ‘Golem’ makes it a brutal awakening. It’s not only this alarm clock awakening, but falling down and standing up to fight back on the enemies that had pushed you, way too far, not knowing they’ll be knocked down for a very long time.

The four-part title-track suite which clocks in at 24 minutes, gives listeners an insight on the themes for connection, alienation, and how humanity acts under duress. ‘Prey’ sees Vallen walk into some arpeggiated sequences while he calms himself down for this heavenly waltz.

All of a sudden, the mood suddenly changes into a Magma-like chant which features this middle-eastern arrangement as Grey digs frantically by reaching to see the sun once more with highly angelic vocal lines. Both ‘A World Without’ and the Nick Drake-like themes on ‘Vigil’ takes us into the acoustic hall of the insane asylum where we see the mental patients who are reaching their breaking point during COVID-19.

We feel the sadness, the loss, and no turning back over what they’ve been going through. It’s a sense of never being the same again. They’ll never be normal. And for them to be cocooned either in their apartments or at their house, its very much like a ticking time bomb inside their head.

‘Give Me Hell’ is the stick of dynamite that has finally exploded. Vallen has turned the once, beloved world, into a massive scene of chaos while the war has finally begun over who will take over the city, and rule with an iron fist.

Griffin’s drum work becomes that explosion. He teams up with the riffs, ascending vocals, and brutal symphonic structures. They become massive punches, hitting your stomach into bits and pieces, one by one.

The last minute is Vallen going from riff to lead sections, climbing towards the mountain top and reaching up to the surface and finally see the giant sun in all of its glory. ‘Salis’ returns to the underwater worlds, one more time, bringing forth Radiohead’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’ from their groundbreaking 1997 release, OK Computer.

While we’re off to the races by starting off the new year with a big bang, Charcoal Grace doesn’t sound like a mega-epic, it has a lot of textures, the strength to move on, and the consequences that follow. This album has a lot of baggage for what Caligula’s Horse have unleashed in 2024. And they really upped the ante with this big handshake that’s waiting for you.

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