Australia’s Caligula’s Horse are finishing up their first European tour this evening and, given its timing – either side of the Paris Bataclan attacks – they’ve seen the very best and the very worst that the continent has to offer. It’s heartening, then, that the five-piece have opted to stay the course – and not least because the notoriously tough Aussie live circuit has clearly groomed the Horse well.
The mooted Dream Theater comparisons are justified in the clean, yet emotive solos of fretboard explorer and songwriter Sam Vallen and their gentler moments recall the chasms of space that Anathema float through. More crucially, Vallen’s ear for melody keeps things colourful and well clear of the machine-like pitfalls that often ensnare practitioners of heavy prog.
It’s highly-rated second album Bloom that forms the body of the set solemn, with frontman Jim Grey dedicating Firelight to recent victims of violence. The chorus refrain, ‘This is for the ones who burned so short, and so bright’ clearly chimes with many in the audience. Fortunately, the mood lifts with album and set-closer The City Has No Empathy, which pulls out the metal stops and sees Grey propel himself from the drum riser in a manner that’s somewhat crouching tiger, hidden, err, horse…
Shining, Norway’s self-appointed ‘blackjazz’ pioneers, are unveiled in a shower of strobe and sax, courtesy of frontman Jørgen Munkeby. They are a surly bunch, clad all in black and generating a swirling maelstrom of synth, sax and throat-busting vocals over a solid base of industrialised guitar distortion.
It’s ribcage-rattlingly loud, calling to mind the brooding bulk of Hey Colossus. Between the pummelling guitars, violent sax shredding and intense strobing, the sensation is reminiscent of a mild Clockwork Orange-style reconditioning. This is compounded by Munkeby – a man with a thousand-yard stare more unsettling than getting stuck in a lift with Billy Bob Thornton. The downside is that this uniformly aggressive avant-gardeness of Shining’s jazz metal sound is, frankly, fatiguing and there’s the air here of a group taking themselves too seriously for their crowd’s own good.
There’s a pause for the end of tour thanks, which go on for five minutes and are genuinely touching – everyone from the merch guy to the soundman and support bands get a personal nod and applause. A final encore of The Madness And The Damage Done, with its ever increasing siren and strobe electrical meltdown signals the end – a ‘leave it all out there’ close to a physically and emotionally demanding tour for both the black jazzers and their antipodean tour mates.