Savage Circus - Of doom and death 4.5/5

Reviewed: 2-1-10


1. Of doom and death
2. The ordeal
3. Devil's spawn
4. Chasing the rainbow
5. Empire
6. Ballad of Susan
7. Legend of Leto II
8. From the ashes
9. Dreamland

Oh, Lord, where does the time go? It's hard to imagine that 4 years have passed since Savage Circus unleashed their brilliant debut CD, 'Dreamland manor', on an unsuspecting planet. The intervening time has been anything but uneventful for Piet Sielck and his merry bards. Band co-founder and noted Blind Guardian alum Thomen "The Omen" Stauch was evidently fired because of mental health/instability issues, to be replaced by drummer extraordinaire Mike Terrana. This personnel change was a big deal given the prominent Blind Guardian influence in Savage Circus's music, Stauch's stated purpose of forming the band to continue in the 'Tales from the twilight world'/'Somewhere far beyond' style long since forsaken by the Guardians, and Stauch's integral role in the songwriting process for 'Dreamland manor'. Still, only a fool (or a soul sucka) would bet against Piet Sielck at this stage of his career. The man has a long and distinguished track record of releasing only quality music, whether in his day job with Iron Savior or otherwise. Sielck knows what he's doing, so with his firm hand at the tiller nothing could go wrong for Savage Circus on its sophomore CD, 'Of doom and death'. Or could it?

Just to quash any misperceptions up front, 'Of doom and death' sounds like business as usual for Savage Circus. As on 'Dreamland manor', the band's style is the perfect hybrid melding of 'Tales...'/'Somewhere...' era Blind Guardian with prime Iron Savior, featuring exciting and epic songscapes routinely clocking in at around 7 minutes. Tempos are fast, galloping double-bass runs underlie almost every song, and guitarists Sielck and Emil Norberg (also of Persuader) do their best Andre Olbrich impression with fluid, melodic lead guitar licks layered throughout every track. Gifted Swedish vocalist Jens Carlsson (whose arms are tattooed with the words "Shotgun" and "Justice" written from wrist to elbow) remains a glorious near-dead ringer for early Hansi Kursch, albeit with slightly more grit and power, an aversion to cheating on his vocal lines in the live setting, and a chronic inability to remember lyrics (given how studiously he pored over the lyric sheets taped to the stage at ProgPower VII). But not everything's Blind Guardian-inspired in the Savage Circus camp. The rhythm guitar tone, the backing vocals, and more than a few of the melodies bear a marked resemblance to Iron Savior, which should surprise no one given Sielck's creative primacy in both bands. So if the idea of an amalgamation of Blind Guardian and Iron Savior appeals to you, or if you liked 'Dreamland manor', you can buy 'Of doom and death' with confidence because nothing has really changed in the interim.

Of equal importance, the songwriting on 'Of doom and death' is easily on par with its predecessor. Out of the 8 proper tracks (the 9th being a mostly quiet 3-minute instrumental outro), I count 4 bona-fide instant classics (the title track, "Chasing the rainbow", "Empire", and the jaw-dropping "From the ashes") that are every bit the equals of "Evil eyes", "It - The gathering" and "Born again by the night" from the debut. And 3 other songs are genuine ass-kickers that most other bands would kill to have in their arsenal, but are just a half-step down from true greatness. In all candor, these 7 tracks tug at my heartstrings, carry me to a distant and glorious land, and resonate on a purely emotional, visceral level, with their power, their might, their grandeur and their transcendant swelling choral melodies. When I hear these songs, I get the same feeling that I do when I hear "Lost in the twilight hall" or "The last candle" or "Banish from sanctuary". These songs are every bit as soul-stirring as the Blind Guardian trailblazing cuts in whose footsteps they follow. What of the 8th proper song? It's a half-ballad called "Ballad of Susan" that's pretty good, especially when the guitars kick in and the energy level kicks up 4 minutes into the track, but it's not really exceptional in any way.

Obviously, a certain stigma will adhere to Savage Circus simply because of their remarkable similarity to an iconic and genre-defining German power metal band. The same "clone" tag has been liberally applied to Stormwarrior for aping 'Walls of Jericho' era Helloween to a pronounced degree. My feelings on the matter are simple. Blind Guardian don't sound like 'Tales from the twilight world' anymore, and they have repeatedly said that they don't want to. Same goes for Helloween and 'Walls of Jericho'. If there are bands who want to keep the spirit of those magical recordings alive today by recreating their sound, style and feel, in the context of new compositions, I'm all for it. To my ears, 'Of doom and death' is one of the best power metal CDs to be released since 'Dreamland manor'. It's inspired, it's triumphant, it's exciting, and it's utterly compelling. It's what I wanted in music in 1989, and it's what I want in music in 2010.




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