Artist: The Circle
Album Title: Metamorphosis
Label: Independent Release
Date of Release: 23 April 2021
Another of my magical evenings spent searching for new music has come up trumps yet again. Without trawling my inbox, Bandcamp, YouTube, my Haulix account and other corners of the Internet, I would never have come across The Circle. And had I not, my life would be much the poorer for it. After reading this review and checking out the music for yourself, I hope you feel the same way.
The Circle is the chosen moniker for a trio of musicians ‘from the depths of Germany’, as their social media pages declare. Whilst I cannot accurately or confidently name any of the musicians, I can tell you that they display the confidence to refer to their musical output as ‘art metal’. I’m never really sure what art metal really means if I’m being completely honest, so I’m going to take the executive decision to ditch that term and use my own descriptors.
That idea seemed a good one initially, but now that I’m forced to commit something to paper, I realise just how difficult it is to describe this music. There are elements of technical death metal, symphonic metal, prog, doom/death, and black metal, with lots more besides just lurking in the shadows. Hints of Fleshgod Apocalypse, Dimmu Borgir, and Ghosts Of Atlantis all rear their heads to a greater or lesser extent at points on ‘Metamorphosis’. This is theatrical, melancholy, grandiose, and heavy music but with a wonderfully melodic vein that runs right through the music, meaning that I cannot tear myself away from it. You all know by now what a sucker I am for beautiful melodies, and for my money, that’s what turns this record into a home run for me.
It is astonishing to think that this release is the debut for The Circle, because it sounds so assured, so well-crafted, and it has a fittingly strong production that does the music justice. The guitars have a gratifying muscularity, the rhythm section is not lost in the mix, and the orchestration, of which there’s plenty, doesn’t overawe the more metallic elements of the music. What I’m still unsure of though, is whether to refer to ‘Metamorphosis’ as an EP or an album. It contains just four songs, but lasts for around 27 minutes, plenty long enough it seems for some death metal or grindcore acts to declare it an album. But do you know what? Who cares? It’s the music that matters most and on that, I’m happy to declare ‘Metamorphosis’ an unmitigated success.
First up is ‘Chapter I: Angst’ that rises up out of the silence in a genuinely sinister manner, as if emerging from hell itself. The drums are arresting, belting out a punishing, slow beat, alongside which heavy riffs churn, fast-picked lead notes add an uncomfortable dissonance, and depraved, deep and guttural growls add malevolence. Then a lone violin emerges to duet with some brutal doom-laden riffs to create a rich melancholy. When the heaviness drops away, the bass can be heard pulsating like the black heart of the music, and the song suddenly reminds me of My Dying Bride. Then, out of nowhere, the darkness parts and in comes a delicate, beautiful melody accented by clean spoken-word vocals. The juxtaposition is quite stark, but incredibly smoothly done, especially when clean vocals replace the growls, and the guitars offer something more subtle, but no less captivating. There’s time for a really cool lead guitar break and an increase in atmospheric synths to bathe the more melodic soundscape, adding further texture in the process, as the song draws to a majestic close.
Already smitten, I pray that the remaining three songs are as strong as the opener. I am rewarded handsomely too, as there’s absollutely no let-up in quality throughout.
‘Chapter II: Verzweiflung’ is quite possibly the most overtly theatrical of the compositions on ‘Metamorphosis’. That said, it opens with more of a standard symphonic black metal approach, where the keys bathe relentless blastbeats, staccato riffs, and more venomous growls. But then, we’re treated to another beautiful melody, complete with passionate clean vocals, and from there, the track meanders from idea to idea with surprising aplomb. A minimalist section comprised of spoken-word lyrics atop sparse guitars and the whispers of tortured souls is intriguing, giving way to one of my favourite, catchiest riffs on the EP. Cleverly maintaining the atmosphere, the track ebbs and flows from theatrical Gothic trappings to technical death metal, to rousing bombast with ease and clarity of purpose.
The intro to ‘Chapter III: Zorn’ is a frenetic whirlwind of black metal intensity but, whilst the drums are loathe to cease their relentless double-pedal battery, the remainder of the instruments settle to create something a little more melodic and majestic as the song progresses, the crowning moment of which is a chorus-like section where clean vocals compliment a strong melody before the musicians veer off in other directions once more.
The final song, ‘Chapter IV: Erlösung’ is a meaty eight minutes, but it uses the time wisely to create a powerful ending to this debut outing for The Circle. The slower, more melodic introduction, complete with choir-like keys, and layers of synths is incredibly elegant but, as with the preceding three songs, the mysterious band don’t remain static for too long. It’s fair to say that this might be the most consistently melodic of the four songs, with fewer forays into the greater extremities. However, it doesn’t suffer as a result, or lose any of its impact. In fact, those moments when the crushing guitar riffs break through are all the more potent as a result. But I have to be honest and say that some of the melodic sensibilities within this final piece are simply stunning; acoustic guitars, violin, and delicate clean vocals come together to raise the hairs on my neck, especially in the closing stages. There’s an echo of Witherfall to be heard, as the band carry us to the end in powerful yet emotional fashion, the track cleverly deconstructing until it stops dead, the sudden silence almost deafening.
In conclusion, I can only say that The Circle have rather deftly blown me away. It may only be four songs, but the quality displayed within and throughout ‘Metamorphosis’ is astounding. Whether you’re a fan of bludgeoning extreme metal, or heavy music with a softer, more melodic side, I guarantee you’ll take to this band as strongly as I have. Call it ‘art metal’ if you like, but I prefer to simply call it magnificent.
The Score Of Much Metal: 92%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: