Progressive metal is an incredibly oversaturated genre. In the post-djent world, there are countless progressively minded heavy bands plying their trade, producing work of varying degrees of quality.
Almost all display virtuoistic levels of instrumentation, yet this doesn’t always automatically make for the most compelling compositions.
Caligula’s Horse are, first and foremost, songwriters, and that much is immediately clear on ‘Rise Radiant’. The massive choruses of ‘Slow Violence’ and ‘Oceanrise’ are designed with sheer listenability in mind, instead of cerebral, beard-scratching deliberation. Caligula’s Horse want to be arena-fillingly accessible, not just bedroom-shredding noodle merchants.
In fact, their ear for pop melodies often outweighs the more metallic aspects of ‘Rise Radiant’. This isn’t really a metal album, but closer to something like recent The Contortionist, albeit less brooding and more deliberately anthemic. ‘Salt’ possesses a major key glimmer, a technical but sharp delicateness that is hugely engaging. ‘Resonate’ is a straight-up pop track, featuring no guitars or live drums, although is probably too restrained to ever achieve some sort of commercial success.
None of this is to say that Caligula’s Horse can’t let rip when they want to. ‘Valkyrie’ is a huge, synth-backed monster of a track, and ‘Oceanrise’ is tonally similar, as is opener ‘The Tempest’. These songs glide through their familiar structures with the same precise navigational skill as they do through the more unique moments, such as the fusion solos of ‘Oceanrise’ and ‘The Tempest’, or the elegant ‘Autumn’, which resembles the quieter moments of The Mars Volta.
Still, ‘Rise Radiant’ isn’t a total success. There are times when the weight of the band’s influences borders pastiche; namely the vocals of Jim Grey, and their aping of Maynard James Keenan. The first two tracks of the album contain vocal melodies so close to Keenan‘s that they lose all sense of individuality, which is a shame, because Grey‘s vocal range is excellent and is probably more varied than Keenan‘s, though obviously not as distinctive or iconic.
The album also suffers from an overabundance of ideas. This isn’t always strictly a flaw, however, ‘Rise Radiant’, is only eight tracks long, but at forty-eight minutes it certainly feels a lot longer.
Finale ‘The Ascent’ is an example of this problem. Its head-spinning structure isn’t particularly elegant, and often resembles the worst indulgences of prog-forebearers like Between The Buried And Me or Dream Theater. Sections of this opus are riveting, others exasperating. Even the shorter, more direct tracks like ‘Oceanrise’ contain a barrage of maximalist production and fiddly riffs to chew on, and not all of them are tasty.
That said, Caligula’s Horse‘s ambitions are admirable, and their approach to complex but direct rock music is commendable. They’re still a work in progress; a lot of sonic and textural refinement is needed, however, with ‘Rise Radiant’, they do paint an intriguing future, one where progressive-minded rock can potentially achieve some sort of broader, mainstream success.