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Circus Maximus: The 1st Chapter

The instrumental track "Biosfear," with its neoclassical guitar and keyboard crescendos, would be among the highlights on most metal albums. But on The 1st Chapter, the aptly titled debut from Norway's oddly named Circus Maximus, it only detracts from the eight passionate, melodic and harmony-laden vocal tracks showcased here. Put simply, Circus Maximus creates a remarkable blend of Queensr˙che, TNT and Vanden Plas - one that is accessible, complex, heavy, dramatic and worthy of any thinking metal fan's attention.

The album opens with the one-two knockout punch of "Sin" and "Alive," which both take this quintet's sound to the max, with melodic aggression tempered by Michael Eriksen's clean and crisp vocals that soar on the memorable choruses. "Glory of the Empire" begins as an acoustic ballad but builds to a mid-tempo rocker that at times sounds a lot like - believe it or not - a Europe song, while "Silence From Angels Above" demonstrates just how gentle these guys can be. The 19-minute symphonic title track bursts with classical arrangements, neoclassical drama, layered vocals and power-chord machismo, while closer "Imperial/Destruction" is loaded with sharp riffs. But the album's best song has to be "Why Am I Here," a feel-good journey into dark introspection. All told, there's not a filler track here - except maybe "Biosfear," that pesky instrumental. :)

What's most amazing about The 1st Chapter - even more so than the music and the production, which, by the way, is courtesy of Helloween producer Tommy Hansen - is that for band members, Circus Maximus appears to be a side project. Eriksen sings in the hard-rock band Carnivora, keyboardist Espen Storo plays in an Ozzy Osbourne tribute band called Ozzmosis, and drummer Truls Haugen belongs to the death-metal band Insense and used to play bass in a cyber-metal outfit called Black Comedy. When he left that gig, Circus Maximus guitarist Mats Haugen stepped in as Black Comedy's session bassist. All of which begs the question: Why don't these guys just focus on Circus Maximus? If The 1st Chapter sounds this fantastic, imagine the possibilities for The 2nd Chapter

(Circus Maximus will be appearing at ProgPower USA VI in Atlanta in September. I'm already looking forward to it.)

Track Listing:
1) Sin
2) Alive
3) Glory of the Empire
4) Biosfear
5) Silence From Angels Above
6) Why Am I Here
7) The Prophecy
8) The 1st Chapter
9) Imperial/Destruction

Added: January 24th 2006
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Related Link: Official Circus Maximus Web Site
Hits: 7202
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Circus Maximus: The 1st Chapter
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-01-24 18:42:45
My Score:

I wish some prog listeners could look past bands' influences. Yes, Circus Maximus is heavily influenced by Dream Theater, but why does everyone make such a big deal of it? I've had this disc for over seven months now and each successive listen proved to be more rewarding. This is a fantastic debut from a young Norwegian band. It encompasses a wide variety of styles but always keeps them within the boundaries of melodic progressive metal. Vocalist Michael Eriksen is the type of singer every prog metal band would want to have. He has excellent range and killer phrasing. Sometimes I have to think of Geoff Tate circa Operation: Mindcrime, sometimes the amazing Tony Harnell from TNT, and even some AOR vocalists, but one thing remains: Eriksen sings everything with a heavy melodic focus and delivers amazing vocal harmonies throughout. Starting with one of the best album opener's of 2005, "Sin", he belts out jawdropping screams, impressive double vocals, and classic hard rock type of harmonies, whilst the band behind him produce some of the best composed riffs and melodies you'll ever find on a first album. The end of the song is highlighted by a frenetic interplay where every member gets his part to impress the listener.

Central to the album are the keyboards played by Espen Stovo who has unfortunately left the band recently. Stovo provides an array of different sounds and tones, ranging from symphonic synth elements on "Alive" (he also duels wildly with guitarist Mats Haugen at the end) to majestic piano interludes and lots of 70's prog rock organs. On "The Prophecy" the band combines lush acoustic guitars with solemn piano and then abruptly breaks into a riff-laden prog number that is eventually underlied by a beautiful symphonic backdrop utilising a brief analog synth solo along the way. Likewise, the 19-minute title track features a delicately arranged keyboard orchestration in its slowly building intro before the Haugen brothers go into a thrash-inspired instrumental pasage with syncopated drum and guitar accents. Joined by thick bass rhythms, the three players dabble with a killer tech metal experimentation before they suddenly cut out lest Espen Stovo can offer a pretty synth lead akin to those on Flower Kings albums. Because this is a long song and the closing solo by Mats Hauglen is slighly neoclassical, "The 1st Chapter" has been labeled as a Symphony X clone by some, and while I can hear similarities, that's where the comparisons end as far as I'm concerned. Inspired by Roman history, "Glory of the Empire" is another lengthy tune conjuring up images of fierce battles, and displaying Michael Eriksen's most versatile performance. On this song, Eriksen first sounds like an 80's AOR singer during the folky synth lines in the intro before he shows us his Tate-like upper register vocals. The band's instrumental prowess is best presented on the complex "Why Am I Here", a song that I assume must be quite hard to pull off live. The chemistry between the guitars and drums, and the very heavy bass walk, all occasionally backed by sprinkles of keyboards, elevate Eriksen's majestic vocals to a higher level. This song is a work of multi-riffage and constant shifts between time signatures. More technical brilliance is executed on the instrumental track "Biosfear", which could compete with the best tech metallers out there. Haugen lays down choppy guitar licks right from the get-go, while his brother and Glen Mollen on bass form a strong rhythmic backbone to the song. However, once again, it is Storo's stunning keyboard work during the unison solo that makes this piece. Storo makes subtle references to 70's prog and plays beautiful Egyptian melodies on this one.

Besides the amazing musicianship, booklet, and mixing job of Tommy Hansen, The 1st Chapter also deserves mention for its lyrical depth. Michael Eriksen is also a great lyricist. He explores dark themes on some of the songs. For instance, "Sin" is a study in crime, from the perspectives of both the criminal and victim, while on the acoustic guitar and synth-driven ballad "Silence From Angels Above", the lyrics portay the desperation of someone who kills his loved one and then seeks forgiveness and piece of mind through religion.

2005 was a great year for prog metal bands. This disc is most essential to listeners who bought and enjoyed the last albums of Pantommind, Zero Hour, Sieges Even, Redemption, NovAct, Pagan's Mind, and Shadow Gallery.

» Reader Comments:

Circus Maximus: The 1st Chapter
Posted by Carlos Canales Vega on 2006-01-25 12:25:30
My Score:

I agree with the two reviewers.But sometimes the riffs and some passages sound identical to their influences.Mainly Symphony X and Dream Theater.Having said that, the songs are strong and memorable as well as the musicianship.So, don't let my criticism prevent you from listening and owning this great debut by Circus Maximus.

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