Philadelphia-hailing rockers Mannequin Pussy have been conjuring music that moves, both physically and mentally, since …
Insert your horse puns here, friends. Lord knows I won’t. The steed that carried a mad Emperor to glory has arrived blissfully and magnificently at Charcoal Grace.
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Caligula’s Horse has been a mainstay among the prog metal scene in Australia, though you wouldn’t really know it from the outside looking in. Yes, bands like Voyager and Karnivool take up much of the oxygen in discussions about Oz prog these days — and deservedly so. Caligula’s Horse have dropped good – sometimes great – albums to middling fanfare. Charcoal Grace is on another level entirely.
Ten minute statement of intent The World Breathes With Me begins with lulled guitar that radiates like water dropped into a still lake, unfurling into grandiose sonic landscapes brimming with wily licks, fuzzed-out riffs, and untrammelled headbanger’s delights. As breathtaking as vocalist Jim Grey sounds on this track, it’s a mere taste of what’s to come. Sloughing off the genre bridles (ahh shit, a horse pun) in Golem, you’ll unearth a funky number that’ll see your booty shaking on the D-floor within seconds. It’s possibly the most stylistically adventurous prog metal track since Pain of Salvation‘s Disco Queen. A track released before some of you were even born. (Dear God!)
Charcoal Grace marinates in sumptious grooves, a constant tension between the sublime and aggressive, and centrepiece instrumental and vocal performances. It all adds up to a cohesive, spellbinding whole.
The centrepiece of the album is the Rush by way of Dream Theater-esque Charcoal Grace suite, spanning four distinct movements. It opens with cinematic fret runs, leads into pensive piano, and finishes on guitar heroism worthy of the highest honours. Prey floats over the top of our senses, seguing effortlessly into A World Without, inspired by knotted technically ecstatic guitar as much as it is old school 70s prog-headedness like Camel or King Crimson. Give Me Hell closes affairs in explosive fashion, culminating in an almighty blur of kaleidoscopic riffs, vocals, and orchestration.
Though Sails and The Stormchaser have their jaw-dropper moments, it’s asking a lot to match the 24 minutes of near-consistent brilliance of their Charcoal Grace suite. That said, they haven’t busted all their creative beans by this point. Mute’s first movement recalls Opeth or Katatonia‘s foray into tender, jazz-inspired reflections, a prelude to letting fly with machine-gun blasts of djenty rhythms, bouldering twists, operatic turns, culminating in fantastic flights of melody and fancy.
Akin to the bombast and ceremony of their genre cousins in Wilderun or Scardust, Charcoal Grace marinates in sumptious grooves, a constant tension between the sublime and aggressive, and centrepiece instrumental and vocal performances. It all adds up to a cohesive, spellbinding whole. This is their landmark opus, the Caligula’s Horse album that will steal the crown from all that has come before. Progheads, rejoice!
STANDOUT TRACKS: The Charcoal Grace Suite, The World Breathes With Me, Golem
STICK THIS NEXT TO: Wilderun, (older) Pain of Salvation, Soen