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Ghost Circus: Cycles

In this digital age, transcontinental collaborations are becoming a viable way for musicians who live in different corners of the world – and who may not even have met each other face to face – to pool their individual talents and make a record together. The remote project Systems Theory comes to mind. And now, so too will Ghost Circus. A chance meeting between multi-instrumentalists Chris Brown from Tennessee and Ronald Wahle from The Netherlands on Neal Morse's internet message board in 2004 led to the creation of Cycles – an eclectic nine-track disc recorded across the miles that sounds as seamless as if Brown and Wahle cut it standing side by side in the same studio.

With combined influences ranging from (deep breath required) Marillion, Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Tears for Fears, The Fixx, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, George Lynch, Peter Murphy, Sisters of Mercy, David Bowie, Queensryche, Dan Swanö, Opeth, Devin Townsend, The Cure, Social Distortion, Spock's Beard, Rush, Yes, Brian Eno, Mutt Lange, Daniel Lanios, Neal Morse and U2 (whew!), the men of Ghost Circus are bound to cover a lot of ground in their music. Indeed, Cycles flits from AOR to progressive rock to technical metal effortlessly, and both Brown and Wahle play with precision and finesse, wrapping sprawling melodies and savvy hooks around Brown's smart, hopeful lyrics about living in a world on the brink.

Although the opener, "Broken Glass," is unremarkable, the title track kicks in next, pulsing with energy and determination, and propelling the rest of the album to a higher plane. "Trick of the Light" echoes the moodier sides of late-period Genesis, the instrumental "Send/Return" could have been in Dream Theater's vaults, and the epic "Mass Suggestion" ebbs and flows across two lengthy parts. Pristine production and elegant packaging add to the enjoyment of Cycles. Touring this record might be virtually impossible, although both musicians have proven that distance isn't a detriment. I'm adding a half-star in the hopes that Brown and Wahle can continue to survive this long-distance relationship …

Track Listing:
1) Broken Glass
2) Cycles
3) Trick of the Light
4) The Distance
5) Accelerate
6) Let It Flow
7) Send/Return
8) Mass Suggestion (Part 1)
9) Mass Suggestion (Part 2)

Added: February 23rd 2007
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Related Link: Official Ghost Circus Web Site
Hits: 6720
Language: english

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Ghost Circus: Cycles
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-02-23 12:54:11
My Score:

Ghost Circus is the project of Chris Brown from the USA and Ronald Wahle from the Netherlands who met on an internet message board a few years ago and decided to put out an album after discovering their mutual interest in progressive rock music. They both recorded their parts in their own countries before mixing and mastering everything. The result is Cycles, a strong debut, especially considering it's just two people performing on it. The music presented on this disc touches on the neo-prog elements heard on earlier Marillion albums, lots of synth-friendly AOR pop, and a plethora of other bands, such as Kino, RPWL, and Frost.

It begins with the mood setter "Broken Glass", introducing a curious mix of heavy keyboards, a pronounced bass and drum combination, and Chris Brown's mid-range vocals that border on being slightly raspy at times. The song climaxes with the duo's perfectly toned lead guitar work before seguing into the title track. Brown's vocals are a lot different on this one. Also, it's a much more complex number, emphasizing vast soundscapes, eerie guitar buildups, and two lead solos, the former being in a more rock-based form and the latter a more spacey style a la early Porcupine Tree meets Blackfield. On the nine-minute "Trick of the Light", the vocals are particularly evocative of Phil Collins era Genesis, and they work perfectly over those gently arpeggiated acoustic riffs and thick synth blanketing. This song has a great filmic quality to it, much like Kevin Moore's soundtrack stuff and even Chroma Key, in that it blends spooky sound effects that underpin beautifully played synth leads and atmospheric elements. The second half of the song is significantly heavier, bringing forth Wahle's remarkable drum fills and thicker fretwork. It is only when the memorable vocal melody returns to the centre that we realize we are still listening to the same track. The finale is simply fantastic: dual leads, bass and drum solos, and dreamy synth washes.

"The Distance" and "Accelerate" veer off into more poppier territory. One of them is highlighted by delicate acoustic guitars and pre-Stupid Dream era Porcupine Tree while the other sees them infusing huge grooves with melodic vocal harmonies atop unusual electronic segments. Moreover, the aforementioned filmic quality is further exemplified on the effect-laden "Let It Flow".

On the instrumental "Send/Return", at almost eight minutes, the duo are perhaps at their most progressive phase, bringing to mind a less heavy version of Moore era Dream Theater with no vocals. The use of bass is vital to this piece as is the ethereal guitar work producing lots of feedback when placed atop lofty keyboard melodies.

The album is finalised with the two-part "Mass Suggestion", part one being the first song Chris Brown heard prior to hooking up with Ronald Wahle. Obviously, both musicians had their own projects before they put Ghost Circus together, and you can clearly see how Wahle's more introspective, minimalistic and darker side complements Brown's progressive-tinged direction while still bringing in pop sensibilities.

Cycles is a great achievement in the world of long-distance musical collaborations. Let's hope there is more to come from these guys.

Ghost Circus: Cycles
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-11-29 03:08:53
My Score:

Many of us were first introduced to the idea of artists collaborating over tremendous distances, without physically meeting, from an act called Dreamship. Coincidentally, they were also on the Prog Rock records label. There have been many similar stories since, and with the current state of the art in datacomms and software such collaborations no longer surprising.

Ghost Circus is a two-man (American and Dutch) outfit that plays music with a slight pop-orientation. The style falls somewhere in the middle of the quadrangle formed by third wave progressive rock (well layered, moving structures, tempo and time shifts), AOR (big anthemic choruses), song-oriented art rock, and neo-prog (in the vein of a Jadis - listen to "Cycles" to hear this similarity). Chris Brown's singing dominates most sections of the record, and his delivery is in a soft mid-range rasp recalling a Chris Rhea or a J.J.Cale, occasionally supported by a pleasing overdubbed chorus.

"The Distance" is a catchy earworm of a melody, with hooks that will stay with you for a long time - it's the sort of song that could easily warrant radio time. "Trick Of The Light" has very strong references to Collins-era Genesis, and the 2-part 11-minute mini-epic "Mass Suggestion" is the most 'proggy' piece on the record - with long instrumental passages, a song structure that develops with the piece, and a strong story line. Supported by strong guitar work and emotional vocals, that song alone would justify your investment.

Cycles won't win many accolades for innovation, but it's a very pleasing listen that will have wide appeal.

Ghost Circus: Cycles
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-09-11 19:46:54
My Score:

ProgRock Records has done a remarkable job bringing underground progressive rock projects such as Ghost Circus to hungry listeners yearning for new sounds. Made up of the duo of Chris Brown (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards) and Ronald Wahle (drums, percussion, keyboards, guitars), from Tennessee and The Netherlands respectably, this is a long distance musical collaboration that really works on all fronts. Fusing elements of prog rock, AOR, and progressive metal, Ghost Circus have put together nine tracks here on Cycles that are instantly memorable, with catchy vocal harmonies from Brown, plenty of stinging guitar leads, lush keyboards, and tight rhythms. Tunes like the groove-laden title track, the Genesis inspired "Trick of the Light", the hint of Fish on "The Distance", the crunchy & complex prog-metal instrumental "Send/Return", and the two part epic "Mass Suggestion" all are highlights of this very listenable and enjoyable CD. Considering that these two musicians put this album together while both being on opposite parts of the globe is really quite impressive. Way to go guys!

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