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Circle II Circle: Watching in Silence

Latter-period Savatage fans who were a bit disappointed with Poets & Madmen, that band's first album in years without singer Zak Stevens, will have plenty to rejoice about upon hearing Watching in Silence, the first album from Stevens' new band, Circle II Circle. In fact, this could almost be a Savatage record, considering that Savatage's keyboardist/once-and-future vocalist Jon Oliva and guitarist Chris Caffery had a hand in writing all 10 tracks on Watching in Silence with Stevens. (Stevens left Savatage in mid-2000, citing family reasons, after recording four studio albums with the band.)

These new songs sound like old friends, as Stevens backed by a tight band that includes former Savatage prospects embraces many of the singing techniques he perfected in Savatage: opening with soft vocals that crescendo and boom (the title track), engaging in complex counterpoint vocals ("Fields of Sorrow") and using rapid-fire staccato delivery for added effect ("Forgiven"). His voice, strong as ever, could run circles (no pun intended) around that of Oliva, who helmed the microphone for Poets & Madmen. In short, Stevens invokes the grandiosity and class of Savatage's underrated 1998 album, The Wake of Magellan.

Given the songwriters involved and the caliber of material on Watching in Silence, it's fair to question whether Stevens will come full circle and eventually return to Savatage. Until he does, and even if he doesn't, Circle II Circle is a welcome return for one of metal's most dramatic singers.

Added: September 20th 2005
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Related Link: Official Circle II Circle Web Site
Hits: 5674
Language: english

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Circle II Circle: Watching in Silence
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-09-20 02:47:59
My Score:

CircleIICircle is former Savatage vocalist Zak Stevens' new band (or even solo project). After leaving Savatage to spend more time with his family and daughter in 2000, Zak decided to make a comeback co-writing songs with his former bandmates Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery. With Jon Oliva writing and producing almost the entire the album, the similarities to Savatage are inevitable. Savatage up to this has always been one of a kind, a band that has developed their unique sound and never been cloned. Now that Zak put together his own band and co-wrote with Jon, we have another Savatage-inspired album. The name of the band CircleIICircle stems from Zak's first circle of friends (Jon and Chris) and his new circle of bandmates (the guys in CIIC). Unfortunately the four members of the band have left CIIC recently due to personal reasons and Zak is looking for replacements as I type this. It's a shame that this 'band' didn't last, because they had a lot of potential and the chemistry between them seemed to be reflecting perfectly on their songs. I wish Zak and the other guys all the best in their future career.

Back to Watching in Silence, the album is opened up with the heavy rocker "Out of Reach" and it's a great way to start things off. I originally thought they might go for the title song, but this one was even a better choice. The riffs in the intro suggest that CIIC is still a metal band all the way, removing everyone's worries instantly. Zak sounds as good as ever, his voice is solid as a rock, and as emotive as his days in the Tage. The second song "Sea of White" is the only 'modern' track on the album, it must have been this kind of modern vibe Zak mentioned in various interviews upon forming CIIC. Some people think it resembles the band Creed, but I don't hear it and actually quite like this tune. By the time the title track kicks in we clearly realise that the Savatage sound is fully intact here. There's no denying that Jon Oliva's music, compositions, and singing has shaped Zak's vocal delivery quite a bit. Zak still sings like he did in Sava back in the days of Edge of Thorns and Handful of Rain. The compositions branch out even further borrowing vocal melodies and song structures from the band's later Zak-era album The Wake of Magellan as well. I think it would be quite safe to say that Watching in Silence is quite similar to mid-90's era Savatage records without the Paul O'Neill touch: melodic, poignant, emotional, and unique.

One difference would be that, unlike the last three Sava albums, Watching in Silence is not a concept album, though the songs seem to complement each other. Another thing is, this being more of a Zak driven album, his vocals are more central in the compositions. The vocals are carefully placed in the middle of the songs allowing the instruments and spacious arrangement to back him up. To be honest, there is nothing new or groundbreaking on this CD. Zak is doing what he can do best. He delivers each song with tons of feeling and we're taken back to the Criss Oliva days. Guitarist Matt LaPorte's solos are very reminiscent of Criss and that's a big plus. It's no wonder why he was considered a replacement for Alex Skolnick back in 1995 when Al Pitrelli got the slot after long contemplation. He plays excellent solos and riffs, it's not difficult to tell he was a big fan of Criss himself. The drumming and bass playing are also amazing. They are both recorded very balanced in the mix.

The song "Forgiven" is perhaps the only track (and my personal favourite) where Zak steps on new ground vocally. As the song begins to take a very Sava-laden direction with a beautiful piano interlude and builds up as the guitars and bass thunder. After the second chorus, Zak pours out his heart delivering a great vocal melody accompanied by LaPorte's wailing guitars. It's one of the finest moments in Zak's career - brilliant! Overall this album is more song oriented and offers the listener Zak's vocals foremost, though the tremendous music isn't pushed in the back either. Also compared to some Sava songs, the writing is more refined and concise, therefore some of the artistic messages are more straightforward. The song "Lies", for instance, is the shortest song and while lyrically competent, it is pretty standard stylistically. It is a satire on politicians ("Follow Me" anyone?) and features a nicely performed guitar solo. However, complexity and proggy elements are still available and more prominent in the second half of the CD. Tracks like "Walls" and "Fields of Sorrow" catalog the classic Queen-ish counterpoint vocals we've grown to love ever since Savatage has been using them on the song "Chance" from HOR. The liberal inclusion of piano and keyboards gives the album proggy motives and that is one the qualities that speaks to me, as I am a proghead.

Jim Morris has done an outstanding job mixing the album; WIS is flawless in this aspect. The tracks are very well arranged, the dynamics are alive, details are sharp. My favourite songs would be the ballad "Forgiven", "Walls" for its rich content, the title track, and "FOS" for Zak's operatic vocals. To make a long review short, Watching in Silence serves its purpose amazingly. I wouldn't be surprised to see Zak's new bandmates having a hard time to top this debut album.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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