Before I start on a more nuanced review of CALIGULA, I will get straight to the point. This is one of the most intense and often overbearing experiences recorded, not only in this year, but over the decade. For people who look to music as an experience and form of artistic vision – not just as something to be enjoyed, but challenged over – you owe it to yourselves to listen to this album.
On first look at the track listing of this album, you can tell it’s intentions. All capitalized track names like “MAY FAILURE BE YOU NOOSE” and “FUCKING DEATHDEALER” indicate a work that’s going to be dealing with the darker side of life. Rage and aggression are clearly a key influence in all of its recording, but there’s also a vulnerability in the tracks. It’s the way Kristin Hayter plays with these dichotomies that enables the album to have such an impact.
Several genre are mixed to great effect on the record. The most obvious of which would be its interchange between neo-classical and Metal sub genres. This process applies across the board both instrumentally and in vocal delivery.
Vocals switch between many styles, from operatic to Mongolian thought singing. And then in its darker phases, there is the more guttural/aggressive delivery of metal.
The instrumentation also mirrors the vocals, going from lighter more delicate textures with the use of classical piano to darker distorted sounds that warp themselves to the point of synthetic instrumentation. Naturally, this results in a wide dynamic range on the record, which varies from quiet moments of reflection to massive crescendos of power that plunge you into the darker depths of the album’s subject matter.
Stories of abuse, pain and violence are delivered aggressively but always earnestly. It’s this raw openness in the vocal delivery that stops the album from becoming ludicrous. The techniques used could easily fall into bombast to the point of caricature, but CALIGULA faithfully treads the fine line between emotional grandeur and reliability to the listener.
The production does a great job of enhancing these colliding elements to create a collective and succinct whole; especially with the use of room ambiance. Most of the album sounds like it’s recorded in large “classical” spaces, such as open orchestral halls. But at times the room closes in on you as the listener, as the vocals become intimate and almost intrusively direct.
This constant push and pull between styles, methods of recording and delivery always keep you on edge as a listener. It’s only week point for me is the last third of the album, which seems to refine some of the styles to a point that it removes some of the conflict that makes the majority of the work so compelling.
The album ends with a collision of percussion, brass, distortion and screaming that escalates to a hard cut that leaves you as the listener completely disoriented. It’s a perfect challenging conclusion to the album and leaves you dumbfounded and exhilarated. Even with its minor shortcomings, CALIGULA’s bold and innovative approach meant it had to be on my albums of the year. A must for anyone seeking a complex, difficult and thought provoking listen.