15th June, 2008

circus_maximusCircus Maximus have the technical side of progressive metal covered, having spent their earlier days covering Dream Theater and Symphony X material. It’s just a shame they didn’t pick up a few more songwriting tips…

This is by no means a bad effort from five undoubtedly talented Norwegians. Taking the positives first, ‘Abyss’ is clearly the standout track, with a rousing chorus and an insane guitar solo with freaky but useful harmonic minor scales. Whilst Espen Store’s keyboards sound as though he is desperately trying not to sound like Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess but failing dismally (not a bad thing, but it does seem to be an issue he is confronting throughout the album), ‘Abyss’ needs to be in any fan of progressive metal’s collection. The intro to ‘A Darkened Mind’ is immaculately eerie, building to an uplifting chorus and pounding guitar/drum riffing. Throughout the album the band display that they are musically tighter than an Olympic photo-finish, with plenty of ideas and a feel for melody.

Mouth of Madness’ needs its 12 minutes to showcase the band’s creativity, apparent in ‘A Darkened Mind’ and ‘Abyss’. Tempo and mood changes a-plenty and with a strong storyline, it’s quite a journey which doesn’t reach the heights of Isolate’s first two tracks, but is a good composition nonetheless. Sane No More’ is an angular instrumental packed with time-signature changes and ear-splitting solos, and lasting only three minutes, it avoids dragging itself into the realms of artistic egotism and listener boredom. Maybe it was designed to demonstrate just how good Mats Haugen (guitarist) is, but this is by no means a bad thing.

Now the negatives. Firstly, there is a lack of consistency. ‘Zero’ and ‘Wither’, whilst both being good arrangements (especially ‘Zero’s emotional singing and beautiful piano arpeggios) don’t seem to reach the heights of aforementioned songs. Of course every album has stand-outs, but the gap between seems to be bigger than usual. ‘Wither’ presents the second weakness; a need for the band to develop their lyrics (as does ‘Arrival of Love’; I can’t stand this track, but that is probably because I have a contempt for love-songs in general).

This is definitely a band worth watching. Whilst Isolate is a far from being a progressive metal classic, Circus Maximus have a mine of talent that should be producing many fine jewels for many years to come.

Published on sputnikmusic, June 2008