Circle II Circle's previous effort The Middle of Nowhere was a let-down for some; gone were the band's amazing keyboard and piano arrangements, terrific lead playing, and even Zak Stevens' vocals seemed to suffer from the sub-par production. Compared to their debut album Watching in Silence, it just didn't have the staying power despite some really well-written numbers.
On their third album Burden of Truth, it is obvious that Zak Stevens and his new band spent more time honing their sound. For starters, the production is absolutely classy, highlighting Zak Stevens' amazing vocals and melodies thoroughly. Andrew Lee and Evan Christopher's guitars have a lot more punch to them; the riffs are heavy and well-timed. Add to this the solid rhythm slam of drummer Robert T. Drennan and Paul Michael Stewart and you have a strong work of melodic metal. On the previous effort, Stewart's bass was the best thing, as they had mixed it a bit high and made it really audible. The guitar work, on the other hand, was less interesting; some of the solos seemed to drag on without developing into anything. This disc puts the band back on track. Starting with the ambitious "Who Am I To Be?", a Sava-like number, bringing forth dramatic piano and melodic guitar crunch and underpinning Stevens' impossibly amazing vocal harmonies. The rhythms provided through drums and the two brief guitar solos also add to the richness of the song.
One of the most striking aspects of Burden of Truth is the way the guitars and vocals were arranged. Stevens apparently has made an effort to stray away from the paths of his former band; some of the songs he's written sound nothing like Savatage, which is a big plus. Rather, he's set out to do his own thing, and the result is more than satisfying. He knows how powerful his voice can be when backed up by melodic threads of guitar and the occasional keys, and that's what he does on songs like "A Matter of Time", "Heal You", and "Evermore". The songs are faster and more energetic. The soaring chorus of "Heal You" and the strong backing harmonies of "Evermore" will make excellent choices in a live setting. Both songs also have slightly rock-flavoured lead solos, unlike the more metallic, heavy explosions heard on their debut.
Zak Stevens absolutely shines on "Revelations", one of his greatest achievements in Circle II Circle. The song begins with crushing staccato riffs in an almost thrash metal sense before dissolving into a sea of melodies. The guitar playing on this song is mind-blowingly beautiful; the short yet sweet tapping lick in the beginning of the intro brings to mind the late Criss Oliva circa Sava's Streets and it's really emotionally fatiguing in its aura. On the acoustic ballad "Your Reality", Stevens opts for clever dynamic shifts in mood and tempo, and makes it work perfectly.
"Into the Black" and "Sentenced" find the band still retaining unmistakable Savatage characteristics, but unlike Watching in Silence, they really try to add their own spin to the pieces, which is great to notice obviously. The melodic singing on "Into the Black" is right up there with the statements Zak made on Handful of Rain, one of the darkest and most powerful albums ever. "Sentenced" has a cool bass groove to it, planted underneath an acoustic and electric guitar respectively, yet it really heightens the song's quality.
"Messiah" is an unapologetic rocker and one of the heaviest songs Circle II Circle have written. The ferocious guitar work and heavy riffage throughout will undoubtedly please fans of melodic heavy metal. This song also being in between the two Sava-like cuts helps diversify the nature of the album and prevents it from sounding samey. The title track is easily their most challenging work. It begins with neat acoustic guitars and strong vocals before Andrew Lee lays down a phenomenal lead solo. The feel on this track is immense and underscores the great counterpoint vocal experiment at the very end.
The lyrics of the album suggest Burden of Truth is a conspiracy theory conceptual work and there is also a secret message hidden in the artwork for the die-hard fans to figure out. I myself haven't gotten to it yet, but it will certainly be interesting to check it out.
While Watching in Silence still remains a personal favourite, I feel Circle II Circle have come very close to matching its magic with their new album Burden of Truth. If you want to hear one of the finest vocal performances of the year, you can't pass this disc up.
- Who Am I To Be?
- A Matter of Time
- Heal You
- Your Reality
- The Black
- Burden of Truth
- Live As One