I have, to the best of my knowledge, all of the less than two hours of music produced by the Australian group, Caligula’s Horse (website)—an hour and 44 minutes, to be exact, the sum total of their studio output so far. But whatever is lacking in quantity is more than made up for in outstanding quality. The group’s first, full-length album, Moments From Ephemeral City (2011), was attention-grabbing and quite memorable, featuring the virtuosity of guitarist (and band founder, producer, songwriter, etc.) Sam Vallen, and the powerful, soulful Jeff Buckley-ish vocals of Jim Grey, who apparently hails from the U.S. The two combine to create alternative prog that brilliantly marries technical prowess with emotional potency, compelling melodies, and lyrical mystery—always a winning combination in my book.
While Moments was, again, exceptional—check out the song, “Alone in the World”, for example—the band’s new offering, The Tide, The Thief & River’s End, goes beyond exceptional. It is, as the reviewer at Murder the Dance rightly concludes, an “11/10” album: “Caligula’s Horse’s sophomore record is an exhilarating listen; the band in its entirely channel the emotions of their instruments throughout, and the structural dynamics here are constructed intelligently. However, it’s Grey and Vallen that truly shine on ‘The Tide, the Thief and the River’s End’. Their collective arsenal alone is enough to earn the band a perfect score.” I cannot improve on what another reviewer, over on the ProgArchives.com site, says about TTTTRE:
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.
The album is a concept album, but is not obvious or direct lyrically; an apparent theme is the oppression of women by religions, yet specifics are difficult to apprehend. All the better, in my opinion, as I prefer ambiguous, expressionist lyrics when it comes to rock music in general. That said, there is undoubtedly a deep sense of tension, urgency, and conflict within the lyrics, intermixed at times with glimpses of hope and a deepening resolve, as evidenced in the final lines of the concluding song, “All Is Quiet By the Wall”:
Hand in hand with our own
This is our home. This is our home
Let our sign say: “Let them come and meet their end”
Now the world is quiet, this is where we make our stand
My favorite cut is probably the second song, “Water’s Edge,” which has a bit of everything:
The band’s site states that Caligula’s Horse are influenced by “such artists as Devin Townsend, Opeth, Steely Dan, Jeff Buckley, Frost, Muse, Karnivool, Meshuggah, Rage Against the Machine, Pain of Salvation, Steeleye Span, the Beatles, Foo Fighters, Frank Zappa, the Dear Hunter, Steve Vai, Fair to Midland, Tori Amos, Lunatic Soul, Katatonia, Tracey Chapman, A Perfect Circle and many others…” I’m familiar, to one degree or another, with all of those groups/artists, and I can hear bits of most of them in the music. (Beatles’ fans can check out Vallen and Grey performing “Across the Universe”.)
Certainly Opeth, Karnivool, Pain of Salvation, Dear Hunter, Katatonia, and A Perfect Circle are readily evident, and any fan of those artists should check out Caligula’s Horse. Vocally, Buckley’s ghost is right in the ear, as this acoustic version of “Silence” (from Moments…) aptly demonstrates: “I want to be ignorant to the frailty of my life/Days are grains of sand in a disciple’s hand/Looking out my window/Through the grey and lifeless sky/I know what I am…”: