It appears that a somewhat limited, yet pretty high-octane offering of prog will pass over the RMR review counter this year. And that’s a good thing. Even if we would have liked to see more, much more.
After the 2019 disappointment that Leprous produced, the deckhands on this RMR cruiser really look forward to some revival of Progressive Metal. Yet, Steven Wilson already telegraphed his urge to exploit the cheesily sweet pop soundscape worse than his current release To The Bone ever dared. And his next record will only show signs of life by January 2021, which may not be all that bad. And – besides – never judge a horse by its looks. We will surely look into its mouth once the time comes.
However, Haken’s Virus shows some true promise so far for later that year. But talented as they may be, to have this one, lone prog master shining brightly out there really only proves that there are meager pickings for the moment in prog land.
Good that we have a counterweight from down under, small as it may be. Caligula’s Horse‘s newest record Rise Radiant is one of the hopefuls to fill that gap – perceived or real – that we are desperate to fill.
I must admit that we kinda ignored this band over the last years1) and did not cover their rising success. Which does not mean that we weren’t aware of them, of course. This reincarnation of Incitatus2) is now on its fifth installment. And this raises the question: Can they really sustain so much success on yet another remarkable piece?
Well, if The Tempest is anything to go by, Rise Radiant should contain everything the prog heart desires – a true heavy-hitter. Yet, the record does aim hard at what Haken did lately. Perhaps less on the side of Affinity. But similarities surely can be found on the warpath Vector took not so long ago. Add to that this uncanny resemblance to Leprous of The Congregation era at times and – indeed – later. And things suddenly don’t look all that snazzy anymore.
That’s not to say that Caligula’s Horse‘s brand of Progressive Metal is vile or inept in any way. Rise Radiant just tries a tad too hard to stay in the middle of that prog road, lest it hit the curb and take a tumble. A mainstream thing that worked for some and less so for others.
That said, we did enjoy the high-level delivery of great Progressive Metal overall. Meaty riffs and the highly technical rhythms truly rock to the forefront. The bass has a voice and the drums rap perfectly in between to hold this all together. Jim Grey‘s vocals professionally lead through the tracks, uncannily precise, be it for soft, thoughtful crooning, or the harder parts.
But this is really true only for The Tempest and The Ascent. The rest in between proved a bit too spotty and wobbly for its own good. The material often meanders around the soundscape in a super-cheesy, sugary style that may be a tad too poppy for its own good. And – you see – it’s not that those are bad songs. Yet often the tracks on Rise Radiant start slowly like some overly languid soft rock. Only to have the band slam some progression with a solo into the mix, way too late to save its bacon.
You’ll find some exceptions, though. In the midst of all that spottiness, Valkyrie provides some true prog. A refreshing, highly complex piece, pretty much at the height the rest should have been at. Salt is worth a mention, too. Even if this one navigates a tad too close to Einar Solberg and his newest wailings.
So, what’s the verdict?
Well, Rise Radiant truly is a mixed bag of goodies. It feels a bit like a double whopper. With high-quality meat patties, only that some of the toppings don’t quite add up.
The record starkly oscillates between head-banging prog geekery3) and truly annoying boredom. One that generated those crazy urges over here to switch over to Nickelback for some swaggery, politically incorrect crunch. And that will never do.
That ugliness out of the way, Caligula’s Horse‘s professional prowess shines brightly. And we could not find any significant fault with the production, mix, or master. A solid piece of prog that – with all its shortcomings – we still consumed with some relish.