Caligula's Horse - Moments From Ephemeral City - 4/5
Everyone from my generation must have done it; browsing through your facebook's news feed wondering who the fuck half the people you must have added at some point over the years actually are, and more to the point, why you befriended them in the first place. Thus is a question I often wonder, but one that - for at least one member of my friend list - was answered with a plethora of bands I'd not heard of amongst those I love, and amongst them all, Caligula's Horse. And despite the entirely bizarre sounding name, this unsigned Aussie band featuring “Quandary's” guitarist and the vocalist from “Arcane” is anything but, harnessing the energy of prog bands past and channelling it into a sound that probably flows together an awful lot better than it sounds.
Despite the occasional electronic beeps and unusual effects, this is undeniably prog metal at its heart (or at least in a shade of grey between prog rock and post/prog metal). It's just defining what kind of prog metal that makes things tricky; guitar work that strays from Haken's love of jazz fusion noodling to almost Porcupine Tree-inspired passages and choral lines, and mixing in the djent tone of Meshuggah for good measure; it hops around quite a lot stylistically resulting in an offering that often feels quite broad. It's nothing if not an impressive debut, delivering on a quality you'd expect of bands working on their third or fourth attempt, but that's not to say everything always works. The guitarist feels like a jack of all trades but master of none; the solo's at times just touch upon sounding technical for the sake of it, the atmosphere doing wonders at shifting between thick and thin but ultimately can feel somewhat superficial, much like the lyrics which seem largely meaningless and generic. At one point he seems to be singing to himself with, “Sing this song... like you've got something to say,” though I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume I'm missing the point – or hell, maybe that is the point, to tell the listener to “sing this song,” as it is pretty catchy. There is a great deal of variety here, but it doesn't best others doing similar things.
That they've chosen a genre with such a high talent requirement is not an excuse for trying to over-reach themselves, and there is far too heavy a reliance on only half the instrumentation; the often mediocre vocals dominating over the basic drum beats and forgettable keyboard lines, leaving the guitars very much the primary reason you'd want to give them a whirl. Acoustic guitars and bass seem to interchange depending on their whim and are the primary contributing factor to the current tone which is severely limited to two settings rather than using the compositions to fluctuate in between the two extremes. Too much time is spent feeling monotonous; the guitar work displays phenomenal technical capabilities but sometimes just doesn't quite seem to fit the track. There's a lot to think about when composing a good prog album, getting the balance of all things right and not running before you can walk, and these guys feel like a good example of that. When it all comes together the result is nothing short of spectacular, and if they can make those moments happen more frequently we may well be onto another contender in the prog scene.
Highlights: The City Has No Empathy, Equally Flawed.