15th September 2017 – Inside Out Music
01. Dream the Dead
02. Will’s Song (Let the Colours Run)
03. The Hands are the Hardest
04. Love Conquers All
05. Songs for No One
07. Fill My Heart
08. Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall
09. The Cannon’s Mouth
You know the drill. With In Contact, Caligula’s Horse have delivered yet another high quality Australian prog-metal album. Insert a standard paragraph here of boggling incredulity that such a relatively small population, and one largely pinned to five isolated spots on a gigantic hot rock can spawn so much talent. Throw in a joke about koalas, and one about being eaten by spiders, and we’re good to go.
The Brisbane quintet first came to my attention on their first European tour, in support of third album Bloom. Somewhat improbably, they were paired with Norwegian mentalists Shining for the run, but however surprising the match was on paper, in practice it was very successful. So successful, in fact, that Shining head honcho Jørgen Munkeby pops in for a cameo on “Graves“, the 15 minute epic which closes In Contact – but we’ll say more about that in a little while.
The other thing that struck me was just how much weightier their live sound was in comparison to the Bloom recordings. That extra heft has made its way onto tape for In Contact, and the net result gives the album a Karnivool-meets-Sevendust vibe, with a sprinkling of Devin Townsend for extra flavour.
Like most good prog-metal albums, In Contact is tied together by a grand unifying concept on artistic impression, told through a series of four chapters dedicated to individuals. The band themselves are going into much more detail on the concept in a video series, so we won’t cover that ground here, however excepting the spoken word piece “Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall“, and given how cryptically the concept is expressed, awareness of it is not a prerequisite to enjoying the album; it’s more an extra layer that can be delved into should you feel moved to.
Even without the concept, there is a great deal to enjoy. In Contact wastes no time in showcasing Caligula’s Horse’s considerable talents. Right from opening track “Dream The Dead“, we are hit with sumptuous, widescreen passages, labyrinthine structures, delicate falsettos, fretshredding solos and choppy, chuggy riffs.
It’s not immediately clear, at least from the review copy, where the dividing lines are between In Contact‘s chapters, but the pairing of “The Hands Are The Hardest” and “Songs For No One” feels like two sides of the same coin. Both are stuffed with hooks, but the former is quiet and gentle, and the latter is a much more muscular affair, as well as being one of the most stompingly anthemic songs that 2017 has delivered.
In Contact culminates in the previously mentioned “Graves“. Massively extended final tracks are most certainly not uncommon, especially in the prog sphere, however it is often the case that a considerable proportion of a 15+ minute run time turns out to be so much ambient burbling or even dead space and a ‘hidden’ track lurking afterwards, forever excluding the track itself from playlists. This is very much NOT the case with “Graves“; in a similar manner to “Dream The Dead“, the track progresses effortlessly and naturally through several sections before, somewhere around the ten minute mark, Jørgen’s saxophone makes its presence felt. The track then undulates through several dynamic peaks and troughs, before an utterly sublime transition into an equally glorious and uplifting last choppy riff. Finales don’t come much grander than this.
Going out with that almighty a bang makes pressing play again practically a necessity. It is clear that a tremendous amount of care and thought has gone into the creation of In Contact, which has resulted in a strong and cohesive album with no major weaknesses. The scope is broad and ambitious, but largely steers clear of self-indulgence – other than the guitar solos, where the high-speed note blizzards do jar a little against the overall vibe of self-restraint.
But that doesn’t detract from the scale of what Caligula’s Horse have achieved with In Contact, balancing heft and beauty, cerebral ponderings and pure, uncomplicated fun. In turn they are underlining the concentration of talent residing in Australia’s prog-metal scene. Long may it continue.