Caligula’s Horse – Charcoal Grace [Album Review]

Review: Benjamin Coe

Brisbane prog titans Caligula’s Horse are no strangers to adversity, having released their last album, 2020’s critically acclaimed Rise Radiant, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequently not being able to tour in support of that album for years after. The situation undoubtedly left them in a dark hole, not knowing if or when they would be able to go on the road again at the very least to showcase their latest crushing effort.

Charcoal Grace is a direct response to not only where they were as a band and the adversities they had to push through together but indeed what the whole world went through collectively. A time of uncertainty and fear whether or not we would ever go back to life as it was pre-pandemic.

The 10 minute opus The World Breathes With Me stunningly opens the album in true Caligula’s Horse fashion with a beautifully intricate and ethereal instrumental intro before the distortion kicks in and guitarist Sam Vallen’s effortless, flourishing solos rise and fall over the chugging rhythms of bassist Dale Prinsse and drummer extraordinaire Josh Griffin. It’s not long before vocalist Jim Grey’s signature croon pierces through the cacophony, adding an element of elegance to the raucousness with his exceptionally poetic imagery describing a world held at ransom and a longing for the way things once were.

The distorted feedback that leads into second track Golem kicks things up a notch with one of the more aggressive riffs to be found on this album as the tight, technical proficiency goes all the way to 11 proving that it will take more than a global pandemic to slow these guys down even the slightest. The riff work from Vallen backed by the slugging bass of the Prinsse/Griffin rhythm combo, while true to what has come before Charcoal Grace, is also an evolution in sound. Whether it’s the crisp production or the pure passion that has gone into the creation of this beast, whatever it may be, it is astounding to listen to.

Charcoal Grace is Caligula’s Horse at their finest with the title track actually being a passage of four songs beginning with the epic Prey which boasts an unbelievably distorted bass tone in the verse that will have audiophiles drooling. The slow-burn track leads into part 2, A World Without, featuring an anthemic acoustic intro which opens up into an almost ethereal tune in which it is so easy to lose yourself. Between Grey’s vocal style and his exceptional lyricism its so hard to not just float away, carried seamlessly by the angelic music on offer.

Parts 3 & 4 of Charcoal Grace close out the passage magnificently with Vigil’s softer offering lulling you down to a beautiful calm before Give Me Hell comes in and kicks the doors down with possibly the darkest song on offer here. The guitar work coupled with Grey’s lyrics paint a dreary picture and close the passage with a chugging, aggressive outro that lyrically harkens back to the opening of the Charcoal Grace journey.

A reprieve from the darkness comes in the form of Sails with its atmospheric guitar solos cascading down over a stunning melody until latest single The Stormchaser cuts back in with a classic Caligula’s Horse sound and reminds you just how juxtaposed one of their albums can be from one minute to the next.

And last but not least is the monumental Mute, whose 11+ minute runtime takes you on an incredible journey just one last time before closing out the album in the most beautiful fashion that you can imagine.

All in all, Charcoal Grace is an exceptional addition to an already stacked catalogue of amazing songs and stories and will definitely stand tall among it’s predecessors and peers alike.

Caligula’s Horse will be releasing their upcoming album Charcoal Grace on Friday 26 January 2024 via InsideOutMusic.