Caligula’s Horse – Charcoal Grace (Album Review)

Review of the Caligula’s Horse album ‘Charcoal Grace’

by Daniel Levy

Australia’s Caligula’s Horse had just released what they felt was their best album, Rise Radiant, in 2020. But of course, with the pandemic taking over the world, all their plans were put on hold – no tour, no ability to promote the album in the way they had planned. So rather than sit around doing nothing, they put their focus into what they know to do best, write music. The result is their intense and emotionally charged new album Charcoal Grace, their 6th studio release.

Guitarist Sam Vallen talks about the challenges the band went through in the interview with The Prog Report. Overall, the band describes the new album as an acceptance of what had happened and to deal with it, and “grapple with our place in this world.”

Many fans will find comfort in the reliable sound of the band, but the subject matter is darker, and the tone heavy. It makes for one of their most affecting albums to date, and one that will mark this time and place of the world. The production is outstanding, pristine, and bombastic. The drums courtesy of Josh Griffin provide a powerful punch on tracks like the first single and main heavy song on the album “Golem.” The riff in the verse and memorable chorus are pure Caligula’s Horse.

The album opens on the 10-minute epic track “The World Breathes With Me” which offers a bit of a new sound for the band, softening the band’s metal touch while maintaining its power. It is a breathtaking way to start the album and after listening through the whole record it is a track you are more than happy to return to.

3rd single “The Stormchaser” is another dramatic track that sounds like only this band can. Jim Grey’s vocals are completely unique and a style he has perfected over the years. The track has almost a shuffle feel through the verses before kicking in to an angry chorus. There are some musical moments that seem to recall the album’s opening track as well. This one is definitely a highlight.

One of the band’s secret talents is writing a beautiful ballad. They did so on Rise Radiant with “Resonate” and they do so again here with “Sails,” a gorgeous track with some brilliant guitar work from Sam Vallen, and simply one of the best choruses on the album. It offers a slight respite, after the aggressive tracks that precede it.

Of course, the album’s centerpiece is the 4-part title track suite, a prog metal tour de force taking the listener on a journey like the band have never attempted. It does demand a few listens to fully absorb, but worth taking the challenge. The album closes in epic fashion with the 12-minute “Mute.” This is what I believe to be the best song in the album. It perfectly balances the new sound of Charcoal Grace with what we’re already familiar from their prior catalogue. Lyrically, it perfect encapsulates the themes of the album and makes for a perfect closer.

Whether or not this is the band’s best will remain to be seen, but there is no denying its ambitious nature and outstanding results. Caligula’s Horse once again prove they are at the top echelon of prog metal groups and Charcoal Grace is a momentous achievement.

Released on Jan 26th, 2024 on InsideOutMusic

Order Charcoal Grace here:

1. The World Breathes with Me (10:00)
2. Golem (5:20)
3. Charcoal Grace I: Prey (7:48)
4. Charcoal Grace II: A World Without (6:48)
5. Charcoal Grace III: Vigil (3:22)
6. Charcoal Grace IV: Give Me Hell (6:13)
7. Sails (4:31)
8. The Stormchaser (5:57)
9. Mute (12:00)

Total Time 61:59

Line-up / Musicians
Jim Grey / lead vocals
Sam Vallen / guitars
Dale Prinsse / bass
Josh Griffin / drums

US tour with opening act Earthside
31/01/2024: DC, Washington, Union Stage
01/02/2024: Philadelphia, PA, Underground Arts
02/02/2024: Boston, MA, Brighton Music Hall
03/02/2024: New York, NY, The Gramercy Theatre
04/02/2024: Montreal, Le Studio TD
06/02/2024: Toronto, The Axis Club
07/02/2024: Pittsburgh, PA, Thunderbird Cafe & Music Hall
08/02/2024: Chicago, IL, Lincoln Hall
12/02/2024: Charlotte, NC, The Underground
13/02/2024: Atlanta, GA, The Masquerade (Hell)
15/02/2024: Dallas, TX, Granada Theatre
16/02/2024: Austin, TX, Come & Take it Live
18/02/2024: Phoenix, AZ, Nile Half House
19/02/2024: San Diego, CA, Brick By Brick
20/02/2024: LA, CA, The Echoplex
21/02/2024: Berkley, CA, Cornerstone
23/02/2024: Seattle, WA, El Corazon
24/02/2024: Portland, OR, Hawthorne Theatre
25/02/2024: Vancouver, Rickshaw

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