So, I know that usually when you read an album review, you’re used to just dealing with one release at a time, but tough times call for tough decisions and we here at BRM have decided to consolidate your album reviews from now on. ACTUALLY, this is a double album re-release. So what we’re basically doing is the musical equivalent of a hand me down…we’re getting Australia’s sloppy seconds so to speak.
OK, ok…enough joking and down to business. The band Caligula’s Horse has been making some noise in the US over the past 2 years. So much so that they got picked up by Inside Out Records, and they are so happy with the performance of their 2015 release Bloom, that Inside Out has decided to re-issue the band’s first two albums Moments from Ephemeral City and The Tide, The Thief & River’s End, both due out June 16th in the US followed by a short European Tour in June.
Moments from Ephemeral City was originally intended to be a solo album for guitarist Sam Vallen. Now to be honest, I’m not sure if it was supposed to be just an instrumental release until vocalist Jim Grey came along, but it certainly sounds that way. This is not a bad thing, it just seems that a lot of the songs on this first release were guitar heavy in the solo department. Some of the tunes sound like the vocals were an after-thought which is hard to do considering the vocalist were talking about.
This first release wasn’t a “band” effort exactly, it was just Jim Grey and Sam Vallen with Vallen playing most of the instruments and Grey handling the vocals. Originally released independently in Australia in 2011, it was said to be produced in “various makeshift studios” which is very remarkable.
Since we’re talking about that, let’s start there…when I read that this album was produced at multiple “makeshift” studios, I was stunned and impressed. First off, when I hear the word “makeshift” anything, I think of low quality, and barely held together. So I’m picturing these “studios” as being basically living rooms, basements and bathrooms around the Brisbane/Gold Coast areas of Australia, and with that in mind WOW! The production on this album is fantastic for a professional studio, let alone someone’s kitchen.
Guitarist Sam Vallen was responsible for all the guitar work, producing, mixing, mastering, making the beds, catering and bedtime stories…I mean, some people are just too talented for words. Vallen’s guitar work is worthy of the label virtuoso, his solos are creative, shredding and provoke emotion which is a rarity in the Prog genre. On top of his soloing, the song writing on this release is diverse, melodic and just wonderful. “Singularity” is truly a masterpiece of guitar work from Vallen. A track souly dedicated to Vallen’s guitar, it excels at keeping me interested, which is saying a lot considering I’m not a fan of the instrumental track as a whole, but this one is exceptional.
Caligula’s Horse is a hard band to pin down stylistically from the very first song of the very first release. From song to song, and measure to measure, they go from Tool like heavy like in the tune “Alone in the World”, to Prog metal reminiscent of Between the Buried and Me (without the death metal vocals) for the song “Calliope’s Son.” Just when you thought that was enough of wide range of styles, the next song will be atmospheric and soulful ala Pink Floyd, like the song “Silence,” and then the acoustic laden, harmony rich “Ephemera” will cleanse the pallet one more time. I think when it’s all said and done, Caligula’s Horse is a Progressive band…Rock? Metal? Both? All of the above for sure, and this release demonstrates that several times over, but this was just the beginning.
Have you ever listened to a band and realized halfway through an album just how good they really are, and where they are headed? I believe this happened while I was listening to this second album from Caligula’s Horse.
Effectively avoiding the dreaded sophomore jinx that has plagued many a great band, Caligula’s Horse gave themselves a focus by writing a concept album. Now I’m not sure if trying to challenge yourself with a concept album on your second album is the best course of action for a new band, but it’s very effective here.
Lyrically it tells the story of a population of people fleeing one city for another in hopes of finding less oppression and freedom. Vocalist Jim Grey is quoted as saying that the story is never “explicitly told” and that there is “room for interpretation.”
If you know CH at all, or read the above description of their first release, it should come as no surprise at all that this album is very different from Moments. Moments was very guitar heavy, and featured a lot of Sam Vallen as the focal point which makes sense, considering it was originally being written as a solo album. Now, do get me wrong, there is a ton of guitar artistry on this album, so don’t get down if you’re a guitar guy.
The difference here is Jim Grey plays a very strong role on this release. I didn’t mention him a lot in the first part of this because he is way more prominent on this release. Jim Grey has quickly become one of my favorite singers out there. He sounds a lot like Maynard from Tool at times when he’s singing aggressively, which is a very unique and awesome sound. And like Maynard, he also has a downright beautiful sounding clean voice. What sets Jim Grey apart from Maynard is his falsetto/head voice is sheer perfection, and the harmonies he writes are insane. Now, I’ll admit, I have yet to see/hear this band live, but if they can pull all of that off live…they could rival Tool in my opinion.
This album, like the first one, also does its share of shifting gears from heavy, to atmospheric and pretty at times. I can say from a sound standpoint, this release is a darker, heavier release than Moments, and given the theme of the concept, I’m pretty sure just by scanning the lyrics that it’s a correct analysis.
High points on this album are, well, I hate to be vague, but the whole damn thing. From the very first guitar riffs of “A Gift to Afterthought,” which really sets the perfect tone with its technicality and heaviness, and Jim Grey’s performance, to epic 8-minute closer “All is Quiet by the Wall,” this album is nearly perfect. If I’m being nit-picky, I could say that I’d love to hear more of the heavy because they do it so very well, but that’s not who they are.
Moments from Ephemeral City and The Tide, The Thief & The River’s End are a great beginning to what I believe will be a very long career. With an upcoming European tour in support of these re-releases and their latest release Bloom with the likes of Opeth, Pain of Salvation and Anathema, there’s going to be a lot of eyes and ears on them, and diverse ears at that.
Be sure to pick up these re-issues on Inside Out Records on June 16th.
Any questions, or comments, send me an email at TheProgtologist@gmail.com.