Right in the heart of the Melbourne CBD, an exceptional audience turnout in Max Watt’s was about to be treated to a night filled with the pure essence of Australian Progressive Metal. Caligula’s Horse were about to play the second show of their In Contact Australian Tour but before we reached that incredible pinnacle Branch Arterial hit the stage to warm us up and deliver a pumping set.
I saw Branch Arterial a couple of months prior to this support slot and the thing that stood out to me most this time around was the level of improvement the band has undergone since then. The instrumental ability has reached a higher level and the song-writing seems to have improved and been refined. They have also become a much tighter unit overall. The transitions between sections had a way of sharply launching the listener in unexpected ways that made for an enjoyable experience. They’re definitely a band to keep an eye on and it’ll be interesting to see how far they can get to. Guitarist Jason Worthy stood out here for his fast but creative runs that had a way of cutting out pleasantly from nowhere.
After a brief wait, the instrumental 3-piece I Built the Sky made their way out to deliver a blistering set of riff-driven proggy goodness. The level of compositional understanding was admirable here. Nobody will disagree that it takes a fair amount of skill to write only instrumental songs that still capture the audience’s attention for the duration of a whole set list, yet they pull it off exceptionally. As an audience that is clearly well versed in what prog is all about, I Built the Sky gave us plenty of odd-time sections and virtuosic solos to really get the energy of the room up to critical level of anticipation for the headliner.
After a bit of a longer wait, the crew finish preparing the stage for Caligula’s Horse and the intro tape begins to roll. The audience cheers when the band arrive on stage and launch without hesitation into the opening duo of tracks from their latest album In Contact. ‘Dream the Dead’ sets the mood for the rest of the show and the band instantly begin demonstrating their immense proficiency on all their respective instruments. ‘Will’s Song (Let the Colours Run)’ bring the audience to a different level however and they really get moving for the first time of the night during the heavy riff sections. The newest addition to the band Adrian Goleby takes no time to prove that he is the perfect sonic fit.
After some brief words with the audience vocalist Jim Grey introduces the next song, ‘The City has No Empathy’ from their debut album Moments from Ephemeral City. Sam Vallen displays his incredible ability as a lead guitarist in the extended solo he begins the song with. By this point the atmosphere in the room is one of concentrated focus, the mix and light show combining with bands intense performance to draw the audience in.
This especially true by the time popular track ‘Firelight’ begins, warranting a brilliant, slow sing-along. Next up we’re treated to the second live performance ever of the song ‘Dragonfly’ from their previous album Bloom. Suffice to say the Melbourne crowd is ecstatic that the Brisbane band chose to bust out this great number for the latest tour. To wrap up this continuous Bloom suite of songs we get ‘Rust,’ which gets a bit of an appropriate mosh started out in the centre of the floor area. Drummer Josh Griffin gets the chance to completely let loose here and his incredible foot work needs to be applauded especially. The bands intense performance radiates outwards again as the audience are encouraged to shout lyrics back the band’s face.
We return briefly to In Contact for a sensational rendition of ‘Songs for No One’ which garners the loudest sing along yet, tearing the roof off of the venue. Dave Couper’s thumping bass resonates throughout the room to take it to an even higher level and whilst audible a bit more volume for the bass in the mix would have done even further wonders for the overall sound by allowing us to properly absorb his incredible playing, which he makes look incredibly easy.
The band finish up the main set by imparting us with a suite of songs from their second album, namely ‘Into the White’ and ‘Dark Hair Down.’ The former provides a slow-burning crescendo which catapults us towards the end of the evening and the latter explodes us for a last mosh before the band exit from the stage. The cheers of “One more song!” begin before the last member is even fully off-stage and as such Jim Grey returns after only a couple of minutes to stand alone and give a performance of the spoken word piece ‘Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall,’ which was an absolute treat. It was incredible to witness him perfectly recite such a long piece of what is essentially dark poetry. And more than this he was completely unaided by the soundscapes that swell up behind him on the album. And yet the way he builds and releases the intensity is so precise that the audience is riled up enough that by the time he delivers his penultimate line “So spit in the canon’s mouth!” he is able to move away from the microphone entirely and witness every single person in the room shout, “AND TELL ‘EM INK SENT YA!” Never have I seen such a warm response to spoken piece at a Metal concert before.
The rest of the band returns to the stage at this point to conclude the show with flawless renditions of both ‘Bloom’ and fan favourite ‘Marigold.’ By the time they take their photo with the audience and leave the stage for real, the satisfaction in the air and on the faces is palpable and clear respectively. It’s undoubted that as far of Australian Progressive Metal goes, this is a night that will sit at the pinnacle for some time to come.
‘Dream the Dead’
‘Will’s Song (Let the Colours Run)’
‘The City has No Empathy (Your Sentimental Lie)’
‘Songs for No One’
‘Into the White’
‘Dark Hair Down’
‘Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall’