Daniel Cece

Hot Off the Press: Caligula's Horse - "Charcoal Grace"

Music Scene Media
Jan 30, 2024
4 min read

Caligula's Horse is a band whose discography ages like fine wine, and their latest album contains the texture, spice, body, balance, and notes (pun intended) you would expect from a robust, properly fermented Pinot. Charcoal Grace waxes and wanes with a refined, sonically aromatic palette that draws from elements that have been given time and air to breathe properly – much like an uncorked bottle of wine. While it is crucial to judge a piece of art on its own merits alone, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the evolution that Caligula's Horse has undergone since their previous album, especially given the slight lineup change a couple of years back. There are distinct stylistic differences between the aforementioned 2020 release, Rise Radiant, and this new album that are apparent, albeit sometimes rather subtle. Even the wording of the album's title encapsulates the more thematic, conceptual undertones woven throughout the music, a fitting name that suggests there is more than initially meets the ear.

Charcoal Grace is more than simply a compilation of pieces squished together under the same overarching title as many albums are today. Traditionally, an album was intended and designed to flow seamlessly track by track, similar to how a very long song would. This is ironically how many Progressive Rock/Metal bands assemble their albums now, keeping aflame a lost and dying art in a world of singles and one-offs. One of the first specifics I noticed about Charcoal Grace was its track listing – notably the multi-part extended track, which is another trope that Progressive bands love (TesseracT's "Concealing Fate", Ne Obliviscaris' "Painters of the Tempest", Persefone's "Aathma" and The Contortionist's "Exoplanet", to name a few).

One criticism of this concept is that not every multi-part track truly feels like a cohesive song broken up into segments in the way that it was perhaps intended. "Charcoal Grace I" - "Charcoal Grace IV", however, is very much an EP within an album, written in the same expertly compatible and coordinated way as Charcoal Grace as a whole. This multi-part track offers more emotion and sentiment than any other within their entire discography, from the ballad-style lyrics to the powerful, memory-evoking note choices. Every musical element congregates together simultaneously, leading you through a gallant and poised dance, guiding your steps one measure at a time in mellifluous harmony.

This sequence truly feels like the heart and soul of Charcoal Grace, the section of the book that you simply can't put down until you finish. One might wonder if this entire segment was crafted before the other songs on the album with the remaining five tracks being written concurrently or perhaps as part of a separate process altogether. Regardless of the method(s), the gift that Caligula's Horse has blessed us with is comprised of layers that, when revealed, showcase the undeniable talent and passion that the members have for the art they create.

It would be a disservice to the remainder of the album if the majority of it, namely the introductory and finishing tracks, didn't get the praise they rightfully deserve, despite the extended title track being such a unique highlight. Caligula's Horse has always demonstrated impressive musicianship in a number of ways, but in a more raw, unpolished sense where their skill would shine through sporadically throughout the course of their songs. Charcoal Grace takes all the best elements from their previous albums and puts them through a refining process that I, personally, always felt was necessary for this band to transcend from great to exemplary. There are very few "filler" moments throughout it, something that I find impossible to say about much of their previous work. Everything, down to their guitar tone and use of dynamic seems next-level, to put it bluntly.

I'm finding it difficult not to reference aspects of individual tracks in an attempt to not spoil the first listen for anyone – quality music is often impossible for words to do justice. Caligula's Horse has other tracks on other albums that certainly stand out for one reason or another, but every single minute of every single song on Charcoal Grace could be unpacked and separated, layer by layer, due to how multifaceted the writing is. There seems to be a thicker layer of intent behind the writing than ever before, something that gives many sections more breadth and depth than their previous material. One element shared across the music made by my utmost favorite bands is the ability for it to be consumed both casually as well as actively. If I'm able to properly enjoy a song or album regardless of my mood or setting I tend to assign a certain hard-to-meet kind of quality to that particular song or album. As such, my list of bands who meet that criterion is woefully short, but Caligula's Horse has earned its spot on it with Charcoal Grace. Casual listeners will still enjoy the funky, staccato grooves that the band is known for while other listeners craving a more immersive experience will be able to reliably dive in head-first with their undivided attention to a world of intrigue.

"Charcoal Grace" has earned being a definition of its own, worthy of becoming a phrase used even aside from the album. Its very name paints a picture of the paradoxical conjoining of principles that are complimentary, yet foreign to each other – with hidden treasures laced within, anointed and favored by benevolence itself. It describes an elegance possessing a texture derived from both the Heavens and the Earth, unafraid to be rugged and uncompromising, yet warm and familiar. Caligula's Horse has captured this sentiment and created music that speaks with a language of unbridled finesse, a balanced dichotomy that can only be expressed as, "Charcoal Grace".

FFO: Leprous, Haken, Karnivool

Overall Rating: 9.5/10

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