Circus Maximus - Isolate 3.5/5
1. A darkened mind
4. Sane no more
5. Arrival of love
7. Mouth of madness
8. From childhood's hour
9. Ultimate sacrifice
An esteemed acquaintance of mine in the online reviewing community once said to me: "There is Dream Theater... there is Symphony X... and right in the middle there is Circus Maximus." With a bit of thought it seems a pretty curious description considering that Symphony X are probably themselves "right in the middle" – half progressive metal and half power metal – but it is a fairly accurate one too. Halfway between a fully blown prog metal band and a prog/power hybrid would put Circus Maximus at about 75% prog and 25% power metal, and that sums up their debut CD, 'The 1st chapter' pretty well.
This follow-up, 'Isolate', is something of a step away from this territory - on one hand embracing pure prog and on the other taking up a more straightforward direction. That description may come across as slightly misleading – the lofty instrumental acrobatics one would expect from a band like this are present throughout, but with many of the songs running at under 5 minutes the structures have been simplified to at least some extent. Definitely the slender power metal aspect of their sound has been reduced further, and replaced by what could simply be called melodic metal. All the lyrics this time around deal with different emotional and psychological states, and while this does no serious harm to the overall piece, the more grand themes from the first CD that featured on the likes of "Glory of the empire" are missed somewhat.
It can be observed from this shift in style that there is nothing really 'progressive' going on here at all – the style of the music is something that has been done countless times before, and only the 2 lengthy songs, "Mouth of madness" and "Ultimate sacrifice" actually build (or progress) towards something different or more substantial than what they start out as.
But despite this, the songs are mostly enjoyable, and will no doubt please listeners that enjoy hearing the technical prowess of progressive bands, but cannot be bothered putting up with their more self-indulgent excursions. Even "Arrival of love", with its hideously cheesy lyrics and more simplistic musical base that is only interspersed with instrumental flurries, comes across very well. Opposed to this, "Sane no more" is a flashy instrumental extravaganza that hands the spotlight fully the musicians to show off their considerable expertise.
More discerning progressive metal fans may turn their noses up at 'Isolate', and the power metal fans that were drawn in by 'The 1st chapter' may find themselves disappointed, but there is a lot to be said for the bite size prog found on the CD. While being more of a sideward step from a promising debut CD than a great leap forward, Circus Maximus have delivered another quality melodic progressive metal release. The big step-up may come with attempt number 3, but even another CD on this level would be more than acceptable.
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