“So much to see here in the darkness…”
Australia (and indeed the world) is enjoying a wealth of heavy music right now. Metalcore, new-school thrash, death and progressive metal are all thriving and our newsfeeds are chock full of new releases, gigs, tours, mind boggling arrays of sub-genres and all manner of heavy goodness. Yep, metal is alive and well.
Enter Circles. Hailing from Melbourne, their debut 2010 EP ‘The Compass’ was released to universal acclaim and (willingly or otherwise) immediately had the mark of “progressive” stamped upon it. The band seemingly has a most promising future. ‘Infinitas’, their self produced full length album has been (to use a hackneyed cliche) ahem… highly anticipated.
Widely espoused as “fiendishly original” and “a dazzling tour-de-force”, the band are about to embark on tours of the UK and Europe… and I’m about to tell you if the quoted self-serving & hyperbolic rhetoric is in any way accurate…
Kicking off with an ethereal & slightly percussive soundscape, “Erased” quickly fires to life with some pummelling metalcore. It possesses lower than low guitar tunings, mind bending polyrhythms & syncopations, melodic & screamed vocals sharing equal space, the odd bit of ambient, impressive guitar soloing and some dub-steppy electronica.
Sound familiar? Yeah…. Fiendishly original it ain’t. A dazzling tour-de-force? Sorry to pour cold water on that rank overstatement, but no. Impressive? For a self produced album, sure. It’s well executed no doubt, the drumming of Dave and guitar work of Ted and Matty (I’m sure they have surnames but none are forthcoming) in particular are exemplary and their synergy & interplay is fundamental to the overall sound of the album.
A most welcome feature of the more brutal sections is that unlike many prog metal acts they don’t overdo things technically. Even though the kick drum patterns are pretty complex, the ubiquitous splash cymbal keeps things ticking over at a rate that has you nodding along with approval. The technicians amongst you may wish to count, add, subtract, divide and generally analyse the percussive phrasing, but non-musicians will still be entertained and impressed by it as a whole.
Perry’s vocals are a bit of a sticking point. The screamed and harmonized parts are fine… if not to everyone’s tastes, but the clean lead vocals stumble and come across as rather forced and overly sincere… and just a bit thin. (Autotune and compression don’t hide everything). This is made up for by the close 2 part harmonies which are very reminiscent of Mike Patton’s work in Faith No More and the utilized intervals are creative and pleasant. They’re particularly impressive in “Radiant” which is the only track that really reaches any kind of epic musical height.
On the production side of things, the guitars sound fantastic. Highly distorted yet clear and easy to follow, they possess that crunchy and weighty quality (of a certain onomatopoeic sub-genre which shall not be named) and reach almost bottomless depths on “Wheels in Motion”.
However, a decent guitar sound does not a great album make. It lacks the true thumping bottom end of some of its contemporaries and while it’s eclectic in nature, the more ambient and melodic sections seem tacked on as one waits impatiently for the next visceral metal assault.
It’s difficult to name standout tracks as they all possess the same musical attributes and elements as one another (see description of opening track “Erased”) and despite repeated listens there’s no song that’s stick-in-your-head catchy (despite the promotional use of words like “infectious” and “beguiling”). However, there’s an editorial gun to my head so without further ado, standout tracks are “Radiant” thanks to the soaring vocal harmonies, “Wheels in Motion” thanks to the crushing heaviness of the guitars and “Ground Shift” because… well, there’s a blast beat in it.
Circles are less fun than Twelve Foot Ninja, less technical than Periphery and less epic than TesseracT. If progressive metalcore is your game then head straight to those guys… I’m sure you have already. A few of you may think it’s unfair to compare them with these established acts, but said acts are still at relatively early and developmental points in their careers. Australia possesses world class metal…and any heavily promoted exponents thereof should be critiqued as such.
Mention of other acts of a similar nature prompts me to address the decades-old misuse of the term “progressive”. How can something be called progressive if it doesn’t actually exhibit any forward progression from a given point? By definition, the current interpretation of “progressive metal” is oxymoronic. Rhythmic complexity and melody don’t mean you’re on the thin edge of the wedge… there’s a thousand other bands doing that. All the technical ability in the world doesn’t mean anything if you sound just like every other band in your pigeonhole. When we hear some true originality and progression… then we’ll call that progressive… until it isn’t anymore…. and so on, but I digress…
It’s difficult to say if Circles have entered the market at the right time. They could ride the crashing wave of prog metal to stardom or be left behind in a cesspool of “progressive” also-rans. To wander further down the quizzical path of nautical metaphors; if well executed but all-too-familiar prog-core floats your boat, then jump on board the good ship Circles. If you’re chasing the truly visionary and original, then bolt for the life rafts and paddle like a motherfucker, cos that ship’s well and truly sailed.