THIS WEEK I’M LISTENING TO...CALIGULA’S Horse – Charcoal Grace (InsideOut Music)THIS WEEK I’M LISTENING TO...CALIGULA’S Horse – Charcoal Grace (InsideOut Music)

To my mind the best band onstage at last year’s ArcTanGent festival, Australia’s Caligula’s Horse are relatively young pups in the pantheon of progressive metal greats. Despite the depth and maturity of their material the Brisbane-based act only came together in 2011 and released their self-financed debut album ‘Moments From Ephemeral City’ together with the ‘Colossus’ EP the same year, before hooking up with Welkin Records for ‘The Tide, The Thief & Rivers End’ in 2013. The big break came when InsideOut Music offered a deal in time for 2015’s ‘Bloom’ album, and ‘In Contact’ (2017) and ‘Rise Radiant’ (2020) followed, slowly but surely increasing their fan base.  


 photo by Andrew Basso/Electrum Photography

2024 sees the release of their sixth album, the roundly ambitious ‘Charcoal Grace’, which sees the band, having weathered the Covid storms, moving on in style and subject matter. Although linked by an over-arching atmosphere of alienation and despair ‘Charcoal Grace’ can be split pretty much into three sections. ‘The World Breathes With Me’ kicks things off in grandiose fashion, the ten-minute opener boasting contrasting dynamics of unbearable lightness and obtuse heaviness and refusing to be hurried to its elegant conclusion. At half the length ‘Golem’ apparently struggles with the confusion of the pandemic, and as such is a heavier and more in-your-face offering. But split into four seamless parts it’s the title track itself dominates the album’s midsection. Written about the relationship between a child and their estranged parent, ‘Charcoal Grace’ is, naturally, an elaborate and challenging twenty-four minute suite with venomous lyrics and diverse delivery musically, from the calm-before the storm early lilt of ‘Prey’ to guitarist Sam Vallen’s acoustic delivery in ‘Vigil’ and the explosive ‘Give Me Hell.’ Following this tour-de-force is no mean feat, yet ‘Sails’, the enigmatic ‘The Stormchaser’ and the twelve-minute multi-faceted ‘Mute’ – which doesn’t sound unlike Leprous in full flow – add further texture to the palette.

It’s perhaps a little odd that vocalist Jim Grey is quite low in the mix at times, seemingly overwhelmed by the instrumentation around him, although maybe that’s intentional, a deliberate nod to the feeling of alienation and desperation. ‘Charcoal Grace’ is a challenging album, but what is life, if not about challenges?

Video clips:
‘Golem’ -
‘The Stormchaser’ -
‘The World Breathes With Me’ -

© John Tucker January 2024