Album Title: Welcome To The Absurd Circus
Label: Frontiers Records
Date of Release: 22 January 2021
Despite a lengthy hiatus a few years ago, Italy’s Labyrinth are one of those bands that has seemingly been around forever, has a very loyal fanbase, but has never really broken into the full-beam limelight. And it is the same for me, as I have tried many times over to get into their particular brand of fast-paced melodic progressive-tinged power metal. However, try as I might, I’ve never been fully smitten by their music. Admittedly, along the way, they have written a few really excellent tracks that always tempt me back in for another try. But no, I can’t get past being a casual, intermittent liker of their music.
I can be frustratingly stubborn at times though, and so when the opportunity arose to hear their latest album, ‘Welcome To The Absurd Circus’, I could not resist.
First things first, the cover of the album is really not very nice in my opinion. It looks cheaply done, and doesn’t set a positive tone for someone like me who is a sucker for good artwork. As the old saying goes, you should never judge a book by its cover and so, putting this to one side, I delved in via the Frontiers stream.
The first song is the title track and immediately, it had me sitting up and taking notice. Despite the post-hiatus line-up changes, there are no real surprises in the overall sound of Labyrinth to report. A vibrant drum roll signals the beginning and from there, we get an up-tempo, urgent guitar riff from the six-string duo of Olaf Thorsen and Andrea Cantarelli, layered with a higher-pitched keyboard lick courtesy of Oleg Smirnoff. The song belts along at a great pace, with Roberto Tiranti opening up his pipes with authority, before a delightful, hooky chorus sweeps me away on the crest of hope that maybe finally, Labyrinth and I could be close buddies.
Sadly, once again, it is not to be, as I find myself feeling let down and a little bit bored by much of what follows. ‘Live Today’ literally sprints away from the blocks, with drummer Mattia Peruzzi putting in a real shift. Then there’s a nice, quieter section led by the bass of Nik Mazzucconi. But the chorus is cliched power metal fare that fails to inspire me too much.
I’m not sure whether it is the quality of the promo stream, or more symptomatic of the production, but listening to ‘Welcome To The Absurd Circus’ is not an easy experience. It sounds quite harsh, and the treble feels like it is too high, meaning that the keyboard embellishments, lead guitar notes, and Tiranti’s voice in particular, feel uncomfortable at times. Then again, it might be simply that I’m not that much of a fan of Tiranti’s voice, as I’m starting to realise. There is nothing wrong with his performance on this album per se, as he can belt out a fine range. However, his penchant for higher-pitched notes doesn’t find favour with me and after a while, I find his voice rather jarring.
Tracks like ‘Den Of Snakes’ and ‘Word’s Minefield’ offer more of the same and are decent tracks, but largely forgettable the moment you move on. Then there’s the cover of Ultravox’s ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’, which some may like, but which does nothing at all for me.
But it isn’t all negative, as ‘One More Last Chance’ starts off well, with a more introspective and wistful approach, Tiranti offering a more measured, softer delivery to compliment the music. And it has a really rather nice chorus that grows after a few listens, not to mention an ebb and flow that works really nicely, to demonstrate the band’s more sophisticated side.
I also really like ‘Sleepwalker’, with it’s nice stomp, vague melodic hard rock edge, and surprisingly addictive chorus. The acoustic guitar-led ballad ‘A Reason To Survive’ is also good, if a little cheesy in places. But this is where Tiranti shows his best side, with less piercing high notes. And ‘As Long As It Lasts’ is a rather grandiose track, with bold, theatrical keys in places, as well as a memorable chorus that lingers in the memory. The bass is really great in this song too, pulsating with authority, especially in the quieter segments of the song.
I must admit that I am incredibly disappointed by this, although I’m not altogether surprised given my history with the band. However, I came into this review really hoping that Labyrinth would finally click because, on paper, they offer exactly what I should like. And, having heard flashes of brilliance in the past, I hoped that this new record would be the consistently excellent affair I know these guys are capable of. Unfortunately, having given it plenty of time and effort, I have to report that it is a similar story. Long term fans will no doubt love it, but for me, ‘Welcome To The Absurd Circus’ once again hints at a greatness that cannot be sustained. It’s a decent album, but nothing more in my opinion.
The Score of Much Metal: 78%
Further reviews from 2021:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: