There are many things this review doesn’t need to include; much of what Caligula’s Horse are known is present on In Contact. The double context of their geographical location and their position within the progressive metal scene, at the forefront of the modern progressive movement, have already been elaborated upon on the blog many times. Thus, this review will attempt to focus on the things that should be included, namely the variations that Caligula’s Horse have injected into their sound with this, their fourth release. If you’re looking instead for a broad overview, let us save you some time and say that In Contact is yet another great release from the C-Horse camp, exceeding their previous album Bloom by melding much of what made it work with the often cited second release, The Tide, The Thief and the River’s End. The result is an energetic and inspiring album, filled with intricate progressive ideas but also the solid and thorough punch which the band is known for.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what makes In Contact different. Some of the additions made to the band’s sound aren’t additions at all but rather magnifications of previously present elements of their sound. The most immediately obvious of those is the sweeter, more nu-prog elements that Bloom had hinted at with tracks like “Turntail” and its ear-worm guitar refrains. On In Contact, these resplendent and melodic elements are brought even more to the front of the instrumental sound, creating an emphasis on soaring leads. This emphasis is apparent from the very first moments of the album, as “Dream the Dead”‘s somber opening transitions fairly quickly to a lead which should be familiar to any fan of the band. However, listen as the track goes on and the guitar/bass interactions create a more upbeat touch to the track.
This increased verve reminds us most of another Australian, Plini. In an interview with Jim Grey, which we’ll publish soon, the vocalist didn’t outright confirm such a path of influence, nor did he say it was impossible. Regardless of whether this influence was direct or not (and, perhaps, we would have done better to just ask Sam Vallen), the comparison holds musical water. As the album progresses, the comparison only strengths. On “Fill My Heart”, one of the latter tracks on the album, the presence of those chromatic leads only increases. It is replete throughout the album, garnering it an epic quality which far exceeds anything the band have made so far.
This larger than life quality is further enhanced with the approach that Grey took to both the vocals and the lyrics. On the lyrical front we find a much welcome return to the concept album format. A separate post is in the work to analyze the concept, so we won’t elaborate here, but suffice it to say that the elaborate characters and timelines of The Tide make an amazing return on In Contact. The vocal approach, however, is where more new elements have been added to the basic sound of the band. While the characteristic, and excellent, style of Grey is maintained on the album (you won’t be deprived of your beloved choruses, worry not), it is also modified by touches of choirs and different approaches to what his voice does on the album.
It also features a powerful spoken word track, “Inertia and the Weapon of the Wall”, an intricate diatribe on the dangers of revolution and the need for direct, communal, political action. This track is one of the high water marks of the album not only because of its own strength, but also because of the incredible transition into “The Cannon’s Mouth”, one of the best Caligula’s Horse tracks to date. It is a heavier piece, one which sees the band reconnecting with the core of their sound as set forth on The Tide, namely their effortless balance between heavy passages and more contemplative, progressive buildups.
However, the crowning glory of the album, and one which also incorporates the most fresh ideas into the Caligula’s Horse formula, is the closing track, “Graves”. It is, by far, the band’s longest track to date, clocking in at fifteen and a half minutes. It also features an incredible saxophone guest spot by Jørgen Munkeby (Shining) which, as per his style, goes above and beyond the novelty guest spot and instead transforms the entire ending of the track into something much greater than the sum of its parts. “Graves” is the promise and its fulfillment of In Contact, displaying a band wholly in charge of their own sound but also willing to modify it.
It includes Caligula’s Horse most ambitious writing, both musically and lyrically, bringing together In Contact and feeding it through its own prism of ideas and sound; the bittersweet balancing of lighthearted leads with heavier riffs, the lyrical repetition and conceptual references, the overall heaviness which appears as if from nowhere, all of these classic C-Horse elements are not only present on “Graves”, they are amplified and perfected while constantly challenged by new sounds (listen to those synths on “Capulet” for example. When was the last time you heard such synth tones on a Caligula’s Horse track and yet, and yet they work so well with the otherwise classic track by the band.
“Graves” then is an extremely promising closer and one which leaves us begging for more. Thus, In Contact is summarized perfectly by every single part of it, both the new and the old. This, once again, solidifies the band as one of the most important, and accomplished, members of the flourishing modern progressive scene. This album, emerging from the first trilogy which tends to signify a band’s beginning, leaves us extremely hopeful and expectant of the band’s future. As Grey himself says on the album, C-Horse continues to reach forward, to stretch their musical digits deeper inside out (get it), to bring forth, modify and expand upon what makes them work so well as a band.
In Contact releases on September 15th, via InsideOut Music. You can head on over here to pre-order it and you better do that right now.