The progressive-metal genre can be frustrating waters to wade into in 2020. There is a very small number of bands that are truly great, and then dozens of bands that are good-to-very good and seemingly have the tools to be truly great. For some reason or another, they are able to assemble 495 pieces of a 500-piece puzzle but can't figure out where the remaining five pieces lock. CALIGULA'S HORSE is a band that has come very close to being great on their last two records, 2015's "Bloom" and 2017's "In Contact". Unfortunately, "Rise Radiant", the Australian quintet's first album in three years, takes the step back from very good to good, instead of the final step forward to being great.
The album begins with promise, as "The Tempest" showcases the things that CALIGULA'S HORSE does well. The array of heavy-prog riffs that guitarists Adrian Goleby and Sam Vallen throw at the listener from the album's onset are dizzying and dazzling. The heavy crunch of their metallic riffs are tempered by a tasteful sense of symphonic calm, and vocalist Jim Grey displays a perfect mix of melody and gravitas that shows he is deserving of being included in the discussions of the best modern vocalists in progressive metal. If the rest of "Rise Radiant" had reached the standard the group sets with the opening track, the rest of this review would be much more glowing.
Unfortunately, the album proves to be fairly shaky from this point forward. Glimpses of the potential greatness showed during the opening, and on the group's most recent records, are still found here and there, but those moments are few and far between. The start of "Slow Violence" feels ripped out of a nu-metal-leaning rock-radio also-ran from 2002. The guitar riffs lean heavier on the aggro side, and Grey's vocals shift to a fast-paced sing-speak. The final result resembles a lesser track from when DREAM THEATER would have moments that flirted with that style around that time period.
The album gets back on track with "Salt", an effort that does a better job of integrating the crunchier riffs within a grandiose epic ballad. Grey still over-utilizes the sing-speak vocal style, but here it shifts into a softer melodic croon that plays much better, especially when augmented like it is here by a warm bass line from Dale Prinsse. From there though, there are not many high points remaining in the album. Aggro-metal crunch riffs drag down "Oceansize" and "Valkyrie", despite the former track also providing a showcase for the most spectacular guitar solo of the record. Grey continues to rely on sing-speak vocals throughout the majority of the record, despite being capable of hitting much more melodic highs. Those highs do peak their head out during "Autumn", another track that has potential to be another epic ballad, though it eventually just kind of peters out and never ends up becoming a substantial whole.
CALIGULA'S HORSE has shown that they are capable of generating moments that are indicative of a truly great band. There are still moments of hope that the band will at some point release an album that is great from start to finish. "Rise Radiant" is not that album, though.