Sound — 9
"Bloom" is the 3rd full-length release from this five piece Australian progressive rock/metal band and it's theirs most interesting one by far (my humble subjective opinion).
The album is slightly different, a bit more focused than their previous releases, it presents some new layers and manipulates aspects of their musicality which we haven't seen before (at least not in this amount).
The opening track, called "Bloom," introduces you into the record with a minor-ish, really soothing and airy, acoustic lines. The vocals accompanying such chord progression fit into this intro concept very nicely, showing how they're not only a great instrumental band but a very vocal/lyric oriented one as well. A simple, yet effective solo that follows, offers a smooth crescendo into a more up tempo portion of the song, which soon turns into a more dynamic and heavy section that leads you perfectly into the second track. "Marigold," the second track, starts of with this proggy riff, showing you that heavier part of their dynamic spectrum. In a record packed with such amazing riffs, it's hard to have a favorite, but this one is easily among my top 5 on this album. The previously mentioned manipulation of dynamics goes back and forth in this song and, right when you sort of had enough of it, you get another taste of a beautifully constructed solo. You'll notice the variety and insane skill in their solo sections throughout the whole record.
If you're not a fan of the standard progressive metal/rock solos, have no fear! The fusion jazz influence is strong within this one, and even though short, it delivers the right amount of vibe needed to break through the any possible monotony that may occur. Third track, "Firelight," is a very distinguishing track on this record. It's a half ballad - half prog rock track with a lot of alternative/post-rock and '70s rock influence. Pretty major-ish sounding with excellent melodies and vocal lines that instantly remind you of summer, and every now and then, little overdrive (not fully distorted) solos tend to add that bit of extra melody to the instrumental section. For me, this is the track where those airy and well controlled vocals get to rise to the top, not trying to imply they do not on the other songs, but this one really puts them upfront. Little falsetto lines in the verse/chorus add harmonically to the whole section what guitars can not, and shows you a range Jim Grey (singer) really has.
Fourth and fifth track on the record, "Dragonfly" and "Rust," present you the bare essence of Bloom as an album done by mature musicians (as mature one can be). "Dragonfly" being less heavy yet melodically and ambientally intriguing track, sets the tone for the rest of the record by offering a nice segue into "Rust." It is more acoustically and atmospherically driven, with occasional palm muted riffs going underneath it. "Rust" starts with the same vibe, quiet vocals, acoustic lines until the bass and drums kick in and offer a bit more dynamics. It's more heavier than "Dragonfly," yet never crosses that line of fine dynamic range, everything is pretty well balanced... Well, until 3:05 hits in. The riff that starts at the mentioned minute mark is again one of those riffs perfectly placed, perfectly composed that will make you listen through the entire song just to have that little break and switch in dynamics. To make this short and precise, another honorable mentions are definitely "Turntail" and "Daughter of the Mountain," which has an almost pop like chorus that reminds me of A.C.T. (if you don't that band be sure to check them out!).
The production in itself is their best so far. The drums are really well mixed, the snare has those mid frequencies that make him pop but still offers enough depth. Guitars are flawless when it comes to the way they were mixed/mastered, they are compressed enough to not make them sound flat and breathe with every song. Bass is upfront yet not standing in the way of everything else, while the vocals are clear, filled with character and EQ-ed/Compressed enough to not make them sound un-organic.
Lyrics — 8
This record just radiates with strong and slightly philosophical lyrical themes. What I like the most about the bare construction of the lyrics is the room left for the listeners imagination to go wild. Even though they are straight to the point, often you'll find yourself fitting different scenarios every time you re-listen a song.
Right at the beginning of the record you're presented with the line "We are not what we have left behind...'' which resonated with me right away. One may think of this in numerous different ways, but my scenario was about a progress of an individual and constant advancement in either mental or physical sense. Many times the music really amplifies the story being told, which is a rare case when those two really compliment each other very well. Another perfect example for an example would be the song "Marigold." The lyrics:
"When I was the king,
Just for that one day,
When nothing could stop me.''
in combination with the ambient and then the bone chillingly good chugging riff afterwards deliver such character and conviction to the story that will make you re-listen in over and over again.
I am not a lyrical guy, and usually when I listen to a record I mainly focus on the instrumental aspect. But when I hear lyrics like:
"'This is my choice, father!' she said...
She is the reason why we fall so soft,
And never regret when we fought and we lost.
Like petals that fall don't blame the ground.''
I can't resist but to stop and think, re-listen and pay attention.
The lyrics really lure you into the music, delivered with such charismatic vocal lines and sang with so much conviction, it makes you want to listen and hear more. Jim has an amazing range with which he is able to paint all the different layers of this story. Altering his voice like that adds another dimension to the record, to the story. It feels as if it's being narrated by multiple characters, each one of them has their own specific set of attributes, character and perspectives.
Maybe the only downside, which is basically just neatpicking, is occasional subjective opinion heard in the lyrics, which isn't entirely a bad thing but it points in a certain direction with which you can't really relate to.
"Fuck this city,
I've been released,
I spread out wide my arms.
I breath in deep and sing,
'I am released.'"
Not implying it's bad, or poorly written, because it fits amazingly in the given context, but I can see how it may be a statement with which certain people may not relate to.
Overall Impression — 9
Among the modern prog acts such as Leprous, Haken, A.C.T., Agent Fresco, Kingcrow etc... Caligula's Horse can definitely offer something new and interesting. Delicately adding tempo and dynamic changes into their arrangements, they can certainly spark a fire of interest in a listener, even if one is not interested in prog metal/rock records. Interesting usage of melodies and heavy riffs will most definitely offer you a one hell of a trip through this 9 record album. I could not pick my favorite tracks from the record, since every one of them has a lot to offer, but if I had to recommend this album to someone who never heard anything prog related, I'd definitely advise them to listen to "Marigold," "Rust" or "Firelight" even.
A little constructive criticism, so it would not seem as if I'm only petting them on the back. It is a very diverse record, which means it has its heavy parts and slow tempo parts. They coexist on this record perfectly, which often times creates this dynamic tension that gets released in the precise moment. Someone who isn't used to this dynamic tension, and wants his/hers heavy distortion riffs throughout the whole length of the song, may find this dynamic changes not quiet fitting their style and the very clean and airy vocals may not please everyone's ears.
Despite everything, I can't give it a clean 10/10. There are, surprisingly, stuff that do bother me about this record, mostly some reaaaaally minorish things which are worthy of the discussion but considering their lyrical, vocal, instrumental ability, I think it deserves a solid 8.5/9. I believe my opinion will vary over time, but as of now I'm pretty impressed with the compositions and the concept of the record. I've ordered my physical copy and you should do!
I hope you'll enjoy in this record half as much as I did.