Circles first came to me this year when I saw that they were coming all the way from Australia along with compatriots Caligula’s Horse to play at ProgPower Europe. “The Last One” is their second album release after “Infinitas” (2013).
It came as no surprise then that Circles launch into prog, but what I heard was an energetic, melodic, djenty and fairly heavy song structure. Without question “Winter” goes through the prog motions perhaps at the expense of the balance of the song. I found the vocals less than tuneful, even allowing for prog variations, and it wasn’t very wintery. Hmm. The sound is mixed to make the vocalist sound distant on the next one, “Breaker”. I couldn’t see the point of that but the song is nice and growly and bassy, breaking off into a dreamy and reflective passage mid way through before bursting out like a blossoming flower. A nice bit of drum work is cut off too early. This seems to be “one of those” albums where promising musical themes need to be developed more. I sensed that somewhere in this that there might be a killer song, but were we going to get one? Well, it didn’t happen on “The Messenger”, a rather dreary prog ballad.
“Arrival” shows more promise. It’s a sensitive song with twirling dark clouds like the album’s cover. The tempo changes are less extreme as the song hits a melancholic but musically colourful groove. A couple of nondescript songs follow, which cannot be said of “Dream Sequence”, but this one is once again like a football team passing the ball around intricately without scoring. No matter how much djent and sound effects you put in, it ought to lead to something and it doesn’t. Like “Winter”, the vocals are dodgy.
I read the lyrics, I played it loud but whilst appreciating snippets, I couldn’t get into any of this and actually found it annoying. Perhaps this was because there was something there, but the things like the growly power, which momentarily invaded “Renegade” were just wasted. Plus the song was whiny. I sensed a quirky Haken moment on “Blueprint for a Great Escape” but Haken this is not. A short lush section is followed by a deep vibe, and if they’d persisted with this for a while, it would have got into my soul maybe but the whiny vocalist reappeared and it just sounded like a racket. “But you want more than there is left to give so I’m depleted now”, wailed the singer. I was feeling depleted too but for the wrong reason. “Alone with Ghosts” ends the album and gives us prog emotion in different musical settings but that was it: it seemed to me to be more about the settings than the context or the scene, and however rich the sand, it fell through my fingers every time and I was left with nothing of any import.
I read a description of Circles music as “alternative”. Well, it is unique in that it’s a lot of prog, rock and modern metal styles thrown together. For me there was nothing to hang on to. “The Last One” sent my mind spinning in a way that equated to listening frustration. I cannot speak for the audience at ProgPower Europe, but there I may find myself in a minority of one in not appreciating this album. I shall find this out in October, when hopefully the live experience of the band will have a more positive impact on me.
(4/10 Andrew Doherty)