Caligula’s Horse: ‘Charcoal Grace’ Review
It has been three long years since Caligula’s Horse’s critically acclaimed 2020 album Rise Radiant, and the Australian progressive metal quartet has returned to the world with yet another masterfully crafted record, Charcoal Grace, released on January 26th 2024. This album marks a significant shift in the band’s general atmosphere as we go deeper and deeper into darker territories, melodies and lyrical themes.
Let us dive into the vast pool of dynamics, where prog metal’s heavy-hitting riffs and complexity meet soaring melodies, creating an immersive soundscape that shimmers with emotional depths and musical prowess.
As we push in the door to this journey, we are met with a 10-minute opener, The World Breathes With Me and that sets the tone for what’s to come – and from the first minute of the song, you can tell how much darker this album is going to be.
Charcoal Grace, the epic suite, starts with gloomy clean guitars, an atmospheric ambience and a splendid bass synth growling away in the background, followed by a classic sounding Caligula’s Horse lead guitar skillfully executed by Sam Vallen playing the main theme and accompanied by a string section. I could go on for days about the glorious moments found on this suite from the insanely technical syncopated riffs to the magical vocals woven in between every pocket, beautifully crafted by Jim Grey. It is something to be raved about.
This epic has it all, the face-melting riffs, the tear-inducing falsetto vocals, the huge solos, the sombre laid-back sections, and even a few symphonic segments here and there.
This four-part epic is an auditory odyssey, traversing a vast emotional landscape that stretches from crushing despair to glimmers of hope. Each part of this song seamlessly blends into the next, creating a cohesive listening experience that leaves you breathless by the end of it. Also leaves Jim breathless because his voice takes on a colossal effort to convey the sheer spectrum of emotions that is this song.
With a total runtime of 24 minutes, this makes the track the longest song Caligula’s Horse has written to date. Now that’s prog.
After that behemoth, we get a moment to recollect our thoughts and breathe a bit with the album’s ballad Sails. Onwards we set sail through waves of nostalgia, melancholy, soothing melodies and harmonies leading us into The Stormchaser, which is comprised of some playful riffs, rhythmic interplay and a lot of Josh Griffin’s iconic drum fills scattered all around, layered with Dale Prinsse’s intricate bass playing.
And with that, we have reached the album closer Mute, another song that’s over 10 minutes in length. It kicks off with only a vocal melody that feels glorious and triumphant, climbing its way up a metaphorical mountain. The world breathes into an unexpected flute here – add that to the long list of orchestral elements found on the album. The strings are prominent throughout and there’s a full-fledged orchestra subtly gracing our ears at the end of ‘Charcoal Grace’.
Mute closes the curtain with a familiar melody heard in The World Breathes With Me, it also ends with the same guitar and ambience that opens this album, sandwiching the record in an eternal loop.
Some of Caligula’s Horse‘s heaviest moments are found within this record but they still always find room for sparkly melodies in between the crevices. The anger is palpable, almost tangible. You can feel it in every instrument, including Jim’s voice which has developed far past his vocal skills of prior records, a feat that I did not believe possible.
The band walks a tightrope with remarkable skill, maintaining their core identity while consistently introducing new elements that captivate the audience, their ability to strike a perfect balance between familiarity and innovation is what sets them apart, ensuring that every album feels both comfortable and exciting. The production is top-notch, everything sits right where it should. What more is there to say?
This is a record that requires multiple listens it to sink in properly due to the sheer complexity and depth brewed in every song, from the syncopated rhythms to the jazzy chord progressions, it’s a taste to savour. The album goes from bone-chilling moments to ethereal passages that make you feel like you’re floating. It’s a sonic tapestry exquisitely designed by the four horsemen of prog, – their most mature record yet.
- The World Breathes With Me (10:00)
- Golem (05:20)
- Charcoal Grace I: Prey (07:48)
- Charcoal Grace II: A World Without (06:48)
- Charcoal Grace III: Vigil (03:22)
- Charcoal Grace IV: Give Me Hell (06:13)
- Sails (04:31)
- The Stormchaser (05:57)
- Mute (12:00)