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Caligula's Horse: Charcoal Grace
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Caligula's Horse: Charcoal Grace

Progressive Metal
4.5/5.0

Australian prog veterans Caligula's Horse returns after a four year absence with their sixth recording, Charcoal Grace. But the absence wasn't an intentional one, but forced upon the quartet by the COVID-19 pandemic. The band suggests that the album was "borne of the static hopelessness that the pandemic forced upon the band and indeed much of the world ..." and "... future after dealing with the largest setback the band had ever experienced ..."

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Caligula's Horse

Founder and guitarist Sam Vallen, suggests the title refers to the "grim allure and strange beauty in stillness, silence, and loss" felt and experienced in that period, and ultimately became thematic expressions within the album. That's some emotional weight, but many of us can relate to the same from these last three years. But artists and musicians can be melancholy people, prone to moody inertness.


So then, Charcoal Grace is an album of progressive metal moved by musical and emotional catharsis. It's heavy, brooding, sometimes despondent, even within the assertive, even crushing riffage and rhythm section that reminds of Haken-esque angst. Not my happy place. You'll find this within the two longest songs The World Breaths With Me and Mute. Yet these arrangements are juxtaposed with moments of somber melancholy, even silence. Alternatively, Golem has not subtlety; its thunders and thuds along with devastating intensity, like anger mixed with extreme frustration.

Then, at the core of the album is the four part Charcoal Grace suite consisting of Prey, A World Without, Vigil, and Give Me Hell. Within these 25 minutes Caligula's Horse finds their prog ingenuity revived. The first two songs seem more focused, creative, and varied. Surely, some of the aforementioned elements remain but I sensed a band rising from the doldrums of past years.

The Vigil adds a considerable pause, a necessary emotional respite in quietness as it were. (Vocalist Jim Grey's voice can be somber and/or brittle whether the music is heavy or soft.) This would seem to continue with Give Me Hell, yet the title suggests not. And so, the song feels like that final outburst of angst, anger, and frustration as if some acceptance has been found. Or at least, the ability to move on.


Perhaps that's why Sails follows with: "So on I sail, those cliffs behind, and all was quiet in my mind; New worlds I thought that I could see, and promise waiting there for me; A quiet place to fill my cup; No storm, no hate, no not enough ..." Seems hope is reborn. Or not. You'll need to get the album and read the rest of the lyrics to find out. I recommend you do so. Finally, something of a footnote: Vallen delivers some fine guitar solos, both thrilling in fret work and as emotional as the music.

All said, Caligula's Horse's Charcoal Grace finds the band exploring the emotional toll the pandemic put upon them as they attempt to regain their musical momentum. The result is a strong and well-crafted, if not musically and emotionally cathartic, album of their creative progressive metal. Easily recommended.


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The Take Away

Caligula's Horse's Charcoal Grace finds the band exploring the emotional toll the pandemic put upon them as they attempt to regain their musical momentum. The result is a strong and well-crafted, if not musically and emotionally cathartic, album of their creative progressive metal. Easily recommended.

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