Well here it is, one of the most eagerly awaited albums for these ears in quite some time. I have been quite vocal in my support of this band since their debut release ‘Moments from Ephemeral City‘ and I guess the big question has been would their follow album compete or better their previous slab of progressive meat. I put it to you that it does indeed compete and then some with this album and is sure to make my top albums of 2013 with Steven Wilson‘s ‘The Raven that Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)’, Tesseract‘s ‘Altered State‘, and Haken‘s ‘The Mountain‘. But to those who haven’t heard the band before, what can you expect to hear? Caligula’s Horse possess the juggernaut riffing of Periphery, the delicate emotional sensibility of Pain of Salvation, the perfectly tasteful and never over or understated rhythm section of Porcupine Tree, all cast to the harmonic ingenuity of Steely Dan. Some of you may be reading this and getting a little excited, it is exciting – it’s downright awesome and executed flawlessly by a cohort of young yet seasoned masters.
“Here and now, it ends”, the album opens with a lulling slapback delay motif which pumps into forceful guitar riffage that will feel familiar and comforting to those returning to the C-Horse, Jim Grey’s vocals are commanding and have an intimidating presence which is glorified by the massive gang vocal sections that sound like an army backing up its fearless leader, somehow I feel as though conceptually this may link in with the album too from behind the scenes videos I have seen that detail the recording process of the record. I must admit, I have not fully delved into the conceptual side of the album yet and have been enjoying it on a musical, production and lyrical level at this point in my journey with the album. I find this to often be the beauty with concept albums in that there is a greater philosophical or even cosmic level to gain from such works of art that gives a record staying power and long term appeal. Certainly this will be the case for “Tide”.
Whilst I feel as though the band has cut some of its fat (the Shrapnel Records übershred), which was something I have always praised the band for in terms of the impressiveness, I think it has actually improved the overall vibe and sincerity of the boys’ output. Don’t get me wrong, you will still hear more 16th note quintuplets than the average bear but I feel it’s done in a way to serve the song and album as a whole.
‘Water’s End’ is harkens back to the eastern flavours and delicate guitar work one will remember from ‘Alone in the World’ and ‘Equally Flawed’ from Moments. It is a beautiful journey through modal harmony and hushed falsettos highlighting his dynamic tenor voice. With a return of the roaring gang vocals and some clever metric modulation, the piece alludes back to some of my favourite guitar work on Moments‘ opening track ‘The City Has No Empathy’ which if I am being honest is still my favourite Caligula’s song. This chanting melody towards the end of the track is particularly encapsulating with all instrumental members (Sam Vallen, Zac Greensill, Geoff Irish and Dave Couper) locked in fiercely creating a busy groove of utmost precision and ferocity.
‘Atlas’ is a beautiful mixture of terraced harmonies and breathtaking music akin to another of my favourite songs that the band released as the eponymous track on the ‘Colossus‘ EP. There is a moment when a really dissonant chord enters and a separate layer comes in to accentuate it. It tickles my musician bone something chronic. I adore this attention to subtlety and detail more than words can ever say and that in itself says something special in that music like this transcends intellectualisation and really captures a feeling which is enough to give that wondrous shiver or goosebump moment that music at its peak is capable of delivering.
‘Into the White’ is one of my favourite tracks and my pick for one of the greatest songs on this album. Beautiful acoustic guitars, graceful melodic bass that Pete Trewavas would be proud of, the beautiful drum ambience, live woodwinds and playful, melodic soloing riding over syncopated djenty rhythms makes this track a true standout.
This album is completely self produced and mixed apart from external mastering and is a complete testament to Sam Vallen and Caligula’s Horse’s abilities. It sounds brilliant with a slightly softened presence giving a vintage edge to a modern sound. The tracks retain a lot of dynamic range with most tracks at DR7 and one at DR8 and DR11 each. For those wanting to read more about this you can check out these two links as I believe it’s important to include in my reviews nowadays as I believe the loudness war has gone on too long, thankfully Caligula’s have not been the worst of victims.
‘Old Cracks in New Earth’ is a largely instrumental track bar the end initial ooh chant and incessant chants of madness/determination that conclude the piece. The track is what you’d expect on this album, the full gamut of dynamics, guitar insanity full of shred and tingling vibratos and feel. It also plays the functional role of melodically reprising key themes of the album unifying the concept and tonality of the album as a whole.
‘Dark Hair Down’ is the track that most would be familiar as it was the lead single of this release with a music video that has already had some serious mileage. It is the most straightforward in terms of structure and dynamics with a hard hitting prowess that pushes the whole track along with momentum. This does not stop it from being one of the most enjoyable. Its verse riffs with extremely tight syncopations and beautiful guitar layers make it a powerhouse of tune. It’s the closest thing to a pop song on the record and I mean that in a complimentary way. The darkened fast Leslie organs augment the murky, visceral tones of the track with graceful splendour.
‘Thief’ is a light ballad and serves as a blissful interlude and pause from the relentless riffing of ‘Dark Hair Down’ which once again shows off the beautiful guitar playing and rich vocal timbre of Mr Grey. It is a gentle track that reminds me of the penultimate track ‘Reflections’ from Above Symmetry’s ‘Ripples’ album and it serves a similar purpose of setting up the final monster.
A medical breakthrough; an organic cure for impotence for sure – this opening groove to ‘All is Quiet by the Wall’ is jizzworthy. This absolute monster intro groove will surely get your chubby pumping or some similar biological reaction for female listeners. Once you’ve adjusted to your self-produced dampness, this track will decimate you. The grooves, the delicateness, the sheer power and command of the band and gang vocals; this is the band unified at its peak and it’s breathtaking. I hope you too will smile when you hear how in your face the guitar solos are mixed – these puppies soar! Perhaps one of my few criticisms of the album is that the beginning of this song sounds better when played in isolation from the album as an entire entity as the level of the previous track feels a little high compared with the start of the track. This is a similar criticism I have of one of my favourite songs by my favourite band Pain of Salvation on the title track of their 2000 album ‘The Perfect Element, Part 1′ so it is likely an idiosyncratic perception of this reviewer rather than what can be seen as a flaw.
All in all this record is one to surely shatter the permutations of inferiority complexes of the Australian music loving population in the fact that we can present work that competes with and often exceeds that of the International market. ‘The Tide, the Thief & River’s End’ is quite simply put – near perfect.