WORDS : SEAN HUBBARD
Australia’s biggest exports are AC/DC and Parkway Drive, with bands like Northlane and In Heart’s Wake most likely also being in the radar of most modern metal fans. However within the world of prog-metal, it is Caligula’s Horse who are flying the flag for the Aussie scene. Firmly placed within the Devin Townsend melodic side of progressive metal rather than the Opeth dissonance, the down-under band recently released their fourth record Rise Radiant in May – a record that would’ve seen them headline an American tour for the first time before the pandemic put a stop to those plans.
it’s easy to valorize being strong or being steadfast, but a big theme of this record is that, as humans, we are both fragile and powerful in equal measure. And so coming back from defeat or facing something that seems insurmountable embodied, to us, a very human experience
As an album about perseverance it could not have been released at a more apt time – something which the band themselves find ironic. Indeed, when the band “were working on Rise Radiant the world was already full of calamity, from the divisive state of global politics to the terrible bushfires which were engulfing Australia. We certainly wrote with circumstances like those as a backdrop.” However the band didn’t let that drag them down, as they describe the record as: “Rise Radiant is about perseverance – about getting back up and facing a challenge which has bested you before.”
This theme of survival runs throughout the album, and the band reflect on that; “it’s easy to valorize being strong or being steadfast, but a big theme of this record is that, as humans, we are both fragile and powerful in equal measure. And so coming back from defeat or facing something that seems insurmountable embodied, to us, a very human experience.” This theme even runs throughout the bonus tracks on Rise Radiant, including a cover of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Don’t Give Up,’ that features a special guest in Exploring Birdsong’s Lynsey Ward. However that wasn’t the only reason for choosing it – although it does mesh perfectly with the motifs of the album – as the band explain that “both of the cover songs were chosen because we wanted to get into the headspace of our heroes and understand better how they craft their music.” As well as ‘sounding progressive,’ Caligula’s Horse also try and experiment throughout their records with unconventional instruments, with guitarist Sam Vallen moving out of his comfort zone; “I played a lot of unusual stringed instruments on Rise Radiant – banjo, mandolin, 12-string guitars, and so forth. Usually layers like that are pulled to the back and treated as subtle parts to create unexpected feelings and atmospheres.”
This is a record of hope, which is not only reflected in the music, but also in the album’s artwork
Indeed the atmosphere throughout the record is an integral part of its sound, with the theme of perseverance and overcoming doubt being reflected sonically. This is a record of hope, which is not only reflected in the music, but also in the album’s artwork – which is a portrait depicting a stag staring at a distant snowy mountain. With greenery and bright colours all around, this is a cover that well-reflects the uplifting nature of the record within.
Having mentioned Devin Townsend earlier it is also important to note that mixing was handled by Jens Bogren, who has produced records for Townsend before, as well as other leading lights such as Opeth and Leprous. He is one of Sam’s personal heroes, and he describes watching Bogren work by saying: “I can’t think of anyone I’ve worked with who has put more thought and effort into his craft.” This record sounds incredibly crisp, which is also due to production being handled by Vallen; who – as a member of the band – has managed to create that fantastic uplifting sound that breeds atmosphere, adding multiple dimensions to an already complex album.
Whilst they might have had tour opportunities cancelled, it is clear that Caligula’s Horse is not letting anything stop them. With a record all about overcoming obstacles it’s obvious that that’s exactly what they’re going to do once live shows become more than a distant dream. In that moment, every single person will understand quite how uplifting this band is. Everyone will surely walk out with a smile on their face – even if they’ve gone through some emotional turmoil on the way.
Rise Radiant is out now