Circus Maximus - Nine 3.5/5
2. Architect of fortune
4. Game of life
5. Reach within
6. I am
8. The one
9. Burn after reading
10. Last goodbye
They certainly took their sweet time didn’t they? ‘Isolate’ looked like the jumping off point for Circus Maximus to go and make a serious name for themselves, but for one reason or another it just didn’t work out that way and its only now, an almost unbelievable 5 years later, that they have finally issued a follow-up.
So, was it worth the wait? Yes. And maybe a little no. But mostly yes. I’ll be honest and say that absence didn’t exactly make the heart grow fonder – as a reasonably big fan of both their first 2 CDs I was never going to forget them entirely, but its fair to say that Circus Maximus had more or less fallen off my personal radar by the time ‘Nine’ rolled around. That probably worked to my advantage for while it is another mostly strong and consistent CD, someone who had been on tenterhooks for the last few years waiting for it would probably feel a few pangs of disappointment that it isn’t quite the meisterwerk the agonising wait could have lead one to hope for.
Comfortably similar to its 2 predecessors, it nonetheless pushes off into a slightly different direction in the same way that ‘Isolate’ did to ‘The 1st chapter’, sounding at once familiar but not stale or, even worse, safe. This outward trajectory naturally makes it closer in style to its immediate forebear, so anyone hoping for a return to the somewhat more epic style of the first CD, with is breathless piano touches and grand symphonic flurries will be met with disappointment.
For the most part the ‘Isolate’ blueprint is followed, with the increased melodic metal/rock vibe of their sophomore effort continuing to shine through, but there is a bit more of an evident separation of approach between songs this time around. That is to say, there are 3 tracks running between 8 and 10 minutes each that throw themselves fully into the world of twisting, liberated prog metal, a few that continue in the vein that most of ‘Isolate’ did of fitting all the proggy knots and kinks into a simplified and shortened song structure, and a few more that are basically melodic rock songs shone through a lens of progressive production and musicianship.
On the one hand there really is a bit of something for everyone, with the hardcore prog heads getting their dizzying instrumental showcases while the front row concert fans get their massive emotional choruses, but on the other there is a bit of a disconnect that results from the more blatant stylistic leaps.
If anything, it is the ‘go between’ songs that seem to suffer, having neither the simple joyfulness of the more simplistic rocking tunes or the more elaborate freedom of their more expansive big brothers. The rock songs actually hold their own quite brilliantly against the more imposing prog behemoths – Mats Haugen finds just the right mix between showy noodling and catchy melody with his sparkling solos and the acrobatic Michael Eriksen remains a superstar in the making behind the microphone.
The contrasting approaches don’t knit together quite as well as ‘Isolate’ did, but ‘Nine’ will be seen as a welcome return from a band who have been out of the game for too long. The weight of expectation may do it a disservice, but on the whole it is a successful progressive metal CD that also has one eye on the rock market, and survives that juxtaposition with little difficulty.
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