Album Review: Caligula’s Horse – Bloom

As this site continues to fill up with mentions of amazingly talented bands from Australia, I must stop and thank one band in particular that has opened my eyes to the land down under. If it weren’t for progressive/alternative rock/metal band Caligula’s Horse, I might’ve simply passed over some of my current favorite records, including their 2013 hit “The Tide, The Thief & River’s End.” A modern staple in the alt-prog scene, it only took two albums from Caligula’s Horse to grab the attention of major music label Inside Out Music, who signed them earlier this year. Now with their first release with the label, Caligula’s Horse has released a contender for album of the year in “Bloom.”

caligula's horse live
Photo by Caligula’s Horse

If fronting two different (and successful) bands with conflicting writing styles wasn’t hard enough, just ask vocalist Jim Grey about the timetable for their newest album “Bloom.” In a prior interview with Crash And Ride Music, Jim Grey recalled the different direction the band took in writing this album:

“Our approach was to not edit anywhere near as much as standard in modern progressive music… Everything else is minimal editing and very live sounding. A lot of the vocal takes we were attempting to get long, one-take blocks of performance to try and capture something. It wasn’t perfect, but it was special. I feel like it’s a very natural sounding album in that way.”

Consisting of eight songs at around 45 minutes long, “Bloom” feels longer than it lets on. With the opening title track and closer “Undergrowth,” the attention is focused on an acoustic guitar, something I cannot easily recall ever occurring on any previous album of theirs. Spotlighting Grey’s incredible vocals, the melody is simple but passionate, effectively pulling the listener to take their seat and catch their breath for the ride that awaits them. It isn’t until the halfway point of the song where the rest of Caligula’s Horse comes charging in, picking up where “The Tide…” left off. I remember flinching my first listen because of the sudden sonic rise, my heartbeat quickened and a smile graced my face. Caligula’s Horse is back.

The song smoothly transitions to their single “Marigold,” one of two heavy tracks on the album. Using the same volume changing techniques as “The Tide…”, the listener is treated with another record filled with epic highs and eloquent lows. In fact, I would say the band improved on this skill, since one of my only complaints with their last album was the too-drastic ups-and-downs in tempo. Caligula’s Horse finds their groove by balancing these highs and lows in a more effective manner. This is perfectly shown in the lead-in to the song’s chorus, with Grey singing “taking what’s mine, with soil below and nothing above me (me me me me).” The echoing of that last word is timed perfectly with the deep booming sound of the drums and guitar, giving me goosebumps every time. It’s a headbanger, especially with the quick-paced solo by Sam Vallen and bass-pedal drum beat of Jeff Irish. At this point, we’re only two songs in and the listener will want to storm around the house in vigor. A little later in “Bloom” we’re introduced to “Rust” and its angsty, passionate lyrics. Grey’s grumbling vocals is accentuated by the heavy drumming of Irish, purposefully building in intensity as the song progresses. Kudos to Irish for providing enthusiastic yet appropriate percussions not only on this track, but on the entire album.

If you’re expecting an album jam-packed with heavy, gloomy, and dark themes as its predecessor, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. As Grey mentioned in our interview, “Bloom” is the response of a band seeking something lighter, brighter, and more luminous. Evidenced in upbeat tracks “Firelight” and “Turntail,” most of the album finds the band exploring a more emotional side, utilizing clear guitar arrangements and lighter drum sections. The lead guitar in “Turntail” alone dances along lines of pop, interspersed between crunchy guitar chords and the ridiculously quick picking of Sam Vallen in the song’s bridge. The album’s longest song “Dragonfly” also provides plenty of moments of livelier songwriting, including the Jeff Buckley-inspired, improvisation vocals in the first half of the song. The fluttering vocals carelessly float over the clean guitar sections like, well, a dragonfly. The album continues in this manner up until their closer “Undergrowth,” containing a lone acoustic guitar and Grey’s delicate, falsetto vocals. Being more approachable and less experimental than prior albums, the lighthearted “Bloom” is the perfect album to introduce to new listeners. The sound of this album will please longtime fans while simultaneously collecting new listeners. And it doesn’t hurt to be signed to a major record label, too.

The eight minute “Daughter Of The Mountain” competes with “Marigold” as my favorite track on “Bloom,” simply because of the thoughtful lyrics and soft-natured orchestration. With all the effect-laced guitars, piano arrangements, and simpler guitar rhythms, the bass guitar is able to stand out from the rest. Although simple, the statement is made, especially as it accompanies the passionate cry of Grey in the lyric “’This is my choice father,’ she said.” It’s the song with the most drastic shifts between high and low, but is marvelously composed.

caligula's horse
Photo by Caligula’s Horse

As much as Grey attempted to describe the thought process behind this album, it couldn’t have been better represented than in the music itself. He said the music is upbeat; the music more than delivered on his words. He said it was raw, using single takes on many vocal tracks; the vocal quality seethes through my earbuds with every word. There currently isn’t a better representation of Australian progressive and alternative rock. This is the pinnacle, and it’s only Caligula’s Horse’s third album. Congratulations guys on the impressive release. If you’re a fan of TesseracT, Dead Letter Circus, and Haken, then you should definitely check out their upcoming release. Please support my friends Caligula’s Horse by visiting their website, and by following them on Facebook and Twitter for band updates. They are currently touring Australia, and will be touring in Europe shortly.

And to Jim: I expect a message when you know about a southern California tour date.

caligula's horse bloom coverPurchase “Bloom” by Caligula’s Horse by clicking the album cover above!

Check out the official music video for the song “Marigold”:

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