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Higher Circles: Ritual One

After reading the bio for Higher Circles, an eclectic progressive-rock trio from California that's been around for almost 20 years, I was prepared for a bizarre listening experience. After all, Steve Moore's old guitar looked like "an amoeba on a stick," and singer Norman Windrose used to play a guitar "that was once a burlwood clock" (whatever the hell that is). Plus, the bio reminds readers, Ken Geer once pounded a $100 drum kit. My presumptions were correct: Ritual One is the band's debut album, featuring 12 tracks - some brief instrumentals and others overbearingly long lyrical compositions - that irritate you before actually winning you over.

Windrose's slightly nasally and whiny voice takes some getting used to, especially when he's singing lines like "I can't tell the difference anymore/Between me and God," from "Some Empty Heaven." And he should have opted against the distorted, Peter Gabriel-like vocals on "Stygmata" - easily among Ritual One's heaviest tracks. Yet with influences ranging from Yes and Marillion to Rush and Primus to Jean-Luc Ponty and Pink Floyd, Higher Circles boast enough variety to please many types of progheads. Album highlights include the gentle crescendo of "Blur," the hard-rocking Saga-esque "Eleven Seconds," the minor-key "Samurai With A Gun" and the majestic instrumental "A Really Weird Rest. " It may take awhile for much of this record to sink in, but with music like this, the joy is in the journey.

Following the lead of their brethren who came before them, Higher Circles wrap Ritual One in some breathtaking album art that incorporates phantom imagery with elements of nature. And, just like the music, it's quite intriguing. Next time, though, the guys should opt for a font most listeners will be able to read. Plowing through Ritual One's liner notes almost blinded me…

Added: May 3rd 2002
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Related Link: Higher Circles' Web Site
Hits: 5550
Language: english

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