Thursday, March 10, 2016

Album Review: Circus Maximus - Havoc

With the new wave of extreme and djent progressive metal bands that have been flooding our ears, it's easy to forget where we were just a few short years ago. Our memories don't need to be long to remember a wave of more traditional progressive metal that was supposed to carry us into the future; bands like Cloudscape and Circus Maximus. They were going to be the next step in progressive metal, but something happened along the way, and that style got usurped, which leaves Circus Maximus in an odd situation. Without the conceptual tie-ins of Vanden Plas, or the rub from a 'legend' like Leprous, what do we make of power leaning progressive metal these days?

We open with "The Weight", which bears no resemblance to the legendary song by The Band, but does tell us what we need to know about Circus Maximus. Over the course of six minutes, we get simple riffs piled into a structure that takes a few detours, we get instrumental bits that sound reminiscent of everyone from Dream Theater to Deep Purple, and the vocals are a softly beautiful melodic sort that bring some levity to the proceedings. It's a very nice track, but it also feels a bit too familiar - not in the sense of being a rip-off, but because it too perfectly does exactly what we would expect.

That feeling doesn't hold on "Highest Bitter", but perhaps it should have. This song takes a different course, with an Eastern motif running through the riffs, but the song itself plods along for too long without an interesting melody, and when the chorus does come, it isn't powerful enough to make the wait worthwhile. It's the same case with the title track, which tries to be heavier with down-tuned guitars playing a riff that Muse would be happy to take. It's a short track, but it isn't snappy. The melody is barely there, and the arrangement gives us little else to latch onto. The momentum the opener tried to establish disappeared very quickly.

That is the most disappointing aspect of "Havoc"; the utter lack of hooks. The band has taken a turn more towards modern rock on this record, and in doing so they have stripped away the elements of progressive metal that make it most appealing. Progressive metal is one of the few places left where a heavy band can still play and sing beautiful melodies, but those aren't what drives this album. This is a cold, modern, rhythmic album that appeals to the people who listen to drum and bass music, but leaves me feeling empty and hollow. They have the talent, and the singer, to be doing something fantastic, but this record isn't it.

When they try to do that, like on the eight minute "Loved Ones", they come close, and at the very least they make music that is exciting and interesting to listen to. The majority of the album isn't, which I'm sorry to say. Call it confirmation bias if you want, but it's an approach I rarely like, and I don't like it here either.

I'm not going to say more on the negative side here, because it wouldn't be fair. Circus Maximus has tried something different here, and they've taken a road that I don't want to do down. It's not at all surprising that I don't enjoy a record that is built on a foundation I think is wrong-headed. That's fine, and more power to anyone who enjoys it. I just won't be one of them.

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