In Contact, the latest offering from Brisbane-based Prog Metal outfit Caligula’s Horse, is an emotional rollercoaster of diverse songs and virtuosic musicianship, punctuated by catchy hooks. It’s no wonder the album has debuted at #50 in the Australian ARIA charts overall, and at #9 among Australian artists. The album begins with a disarmingly heavy intro including powerful drums and strikingly complex guitar. This immediate heaviness leads into a more subdued section as Jim Grey’s vocals are gently introduced. The track builds up again into a wall-of-sound chorus that launches the first of many stellar solos from Sam Vallen. Grey’s vocals are heartfelt, particularly on the line, “You wasted Heaven on saving yourself.” The song leads into a powerful crescendo, with heavy riffing courtesy of Vallen and Adrian Goleby that will be familiar territory for long-time fans of the band.
‘Will’s Song (Let the Colours Run)’ is one of the heaviest and darkest songs Caligula’s Horse have ever released, with its dramatic urgency belying the pastel tones of the album artwork. The music is intense and at times discordant, and becomes outright unsettling with Grey’s echoing, “Find me…” After the discordant sections the song comes back together with a raw power that still captures a sense of desperation and urgency. The darkness and turbulence are expressed in a manner similar perhaps to how Dream Theater or Porcupine Tree may have done it. Nevertheless, there are elements of hope occasionally injected through the soaring vocals.
‘The Hands are the Hardest’ provides a direct contrast to ‘Will’s Song,’ as it is both comforting and catchy with its softer vocals and more progressive musicianship. As ‘Will’s Song’ captured darkness in a manner reminiscent of Dream Theater, ‘The Hands are the Hardest’ does in some moments remind one of ‘Solitary Shell.’ ‘Love Conquers All’ carries on the gentle vibe, a quiet and easily overlooked track that could be described as Steve Vai meets Steven Wilson.
‘Songs for No One’ launches back into raw power with Grey’s declamatory voice alone leading the charge into exciting, exultant music. ‘Songs for No One’ reintroduces the chunky riffing and complex soloing of Goleby and Vallen, with these getting heavier and more forceful in cycles as the song goes on.
‘Capulet’ is another gentle song in a different style, reminiscent of mellotron-focused tracks from Opeth or Porcupine Tree. This is contrasted by ‘Fill my Heart,’ with Josh Griffin’s drumming providing the powerful foundations for big, dramatic guitars and the open clarity of Grey’s vocals as they communicate the exploratory nature of the song. After the bombast of the opening, the song takes its time to become truly expansive, bringing the focus right down to the lonely guitar in downbeat moments, with the lead picking up in exultation as Vallen is joined by the rest of the band, along with producing the most impressive solo on the album. The lyrics continue to strike a chord, particularly with lines such as “So give me distance, a sky without tether / But it was the chasm that brought us together.”
Perhaps the most interesting track on the album is ‘Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall,’ which is not a song at all but spoken word poetry. While certainly a risk, the track is bold and powerful as it declares, “This whole fucking city’s rotten to the core!” “Son, if you’re going to cry, cry havoc!” and perhaps most poignantly at its close, “The writing on the wall you love was hand-penned by the censor.” Grey’s words are intense and confronting combined with his delivery that can best be described as theatrical, in the sense that it would sit well on stage and truly hold an audience through the power of his voice alone.
‘The Cannon’s Mouth’ picks up on the intensity of Grey’s poetry, carrying the listener and the emotion forward. Grey’s vocals are expressed in an unfamiliar way over the gradually building music, though as the music becomes more intense, Grey becomes more familiar and recognisable. The song’s outro is heavy and aggressive as it declares we can “be force fed war and spit peace.”
The 15-minute epic ‘Graves’ is the deserving centrepiece of the album, as the most outstandingly beautiful piece of music Caligula’s Horse have ever created. Fast, uplifting and climactic in its first minutes, it then comes right down to something relaxed and flowing before very gradually building back up. At one point the song is led almost exclusively by vocal harmonies, a truly beguiling moment. Keys are utilised magnificently to round out the sound, and there is even the surprise introduction of a saxophone that works oddly well as it leads into the intense and dramatic climax. Overall, the song carries not so much the urgency of ‘Will’s Song,’ but certainly a feeling of immediacy and finality.
The album closes with ‘Atlas – revisited,’ a new arrangement of the track from The Tide, the Thief & River’s End. If Steven Wilson had produced that album, this is likely what that track would have sounded like. The more subdued instrumentation allows for a stronger focus on the emotive vocals, and while the album might have been more appropriately closed by ‘Graves,’ this version of ‘Atlas’ is a worthy addition to the Caligula’s Horse catalogue overall.
While always producers of quality, Caligula’s Horse have outdone themselves with In Contact, and prove that Progressive music in Australia can push the boundaries with the best of them, while still incorporating catchy hooks and excellent songwriting to bring listeners along for every moment of the ride.