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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Circus Maximus

The 1st Chapter

Review by Gary Hill

Norway is the home to Circus Maximus, and I don't know what they are doing up there, but whatever it is, I hope they keep it up. This band consists of Michael Eriksen (vocals) and Mats Haugen (guitar) and his brother Truls Haugen (drums), Epsen Storø (keys) and Glen Cato Møllen (bass). Where Dream Theater charged ahead moving into a harder edged progressive rock field dominated by fast paced changes and odd timings, these guys push even further on. Their sound often times has a lot of Dream Theater in it, but it seems they are also more likely to toy at both ends of the musical spectrum - adding in heavier metallic segments and parts that are closer to 1970's era prog. At times you'll swear you hear Emerson Lake and Palmer here. The vocals are another anomaly. Eriksen can sometimes sound like the deep tones of Geoff Tate, while at other points he soars in melodic fashion not unlike a cross between James LaBrie and Yes' Jon Anderson. The result here is an album that should definitely please fans of Ryche and Dream Theater, but it also might go a ways toward giving more acceptance to the heavier neo-prog amongst old school progressive rock fans. Either way, this disc rocks! Here's looking forward to Chapter 2.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Sin
This stomps in like super aggressive, super heavy nu metal, but then shifts to a fast paced Dream Theater like jam. It moves next to a psychedelic progression, but still maintains the harder edge. The DT like themes return to bring in the melodic vocals and we're launched on a crunchy neo prog journey that is powerful and incredibly dramatic. It's amazing how they can merge the heavier very well with classic prog elements to create a new and quite tasty hybrid that works extremely well. This goes through a lot of changes, but never gets noodly or over the top.
Alive
This one comes in heavy, but still very prog, then shifts to a very ballad like, but still fast song structure for the verse. This one seems to combine epic metal sounds with full on prog for a great combination. Once again they put in a lot of varying segments, in fact more than on the last one, into the mix. This one is a killer with mellower sections counterbalanced with the heavier. The Dream Theater like textures also show up on this one in the form of a stalking staccato pattern as part of the instrumental break. This break seamlessly combines so many diverse sections it's unbelievable.
Glory of the Empire
A full change of pace, an intricate acoustic guitar combines with waves of keys to create the tapestry of the music presented for quite some time on this one. They bump it up into crunch territory while carrying forward these themes, then drop it back to a mellower stripped down segment for the poignant verse, then crank it back up as it carries forward. It's amazing how many changes and varied textures these guys can pack into one song.
Biosfear
Lightning fast, swirling crunchy prog starts this and the band launch into a jam that's part fusion and part Dream Theater. This turns quite off kilter later with weird timings and Zappa like riffs coming and going. Eventually they jump into a fast paced crunchy riff and then the keys move it into new fusion like territory before they drop it to Satriani like rock and roll. They move through so many changes on this instrumental that it's hard to keep up, but definitely a lot of fun to try.
Silence From Angels Above
Sounds of a gentle storm start this and an acoustic ballad mode is accompanied by a Geoff Tate like vocal line. They gradually build this in beautiful and evocative patterns. A keyboard solo is laid over top. They turn this eventually into a take on the cut that feels a bit like Yes or Genesis with a cool enveloped keyboard sound soaring over it. This one stays mellow throughout the aforementioned keyboard laden segment fading to end it.
Why Am I Here
They jump in hard edged, made to feel even more so by the sedate texture of the last one. This becomes another strong neo prog jam that seems to cross Dream Theater like sounds with Queensryche like ones. This is another dynamic one moving over a lot of territory. This one really works exceptionally well in the extended instrumental section.
The Prophecy
Based on a bouncy acoustic guitar line, this one starts with Tate like vocals, but a high pitched soaring vocal line also joins in. The early segments here feel a lot like Ryche's mellower stuff, but as the keys enter it shifts to a more full prog rock mode, moving into new variants on the same themes. After a time like this it turns to something that at first resembles a hard-edged ELP, but then shifts to more DT like material. They move this through a number of changes and then come back to the earlier mellow prog segment. They shift that to a jazz like movement, the work back into the hard edged with anew jam that includes head spinning timing changes and both metallic sounds and those that call to mind both ELP and Kansas. They resolve it out into a pretty melodic section that reverts to the acoustically driven more do carry forward.
The 1st Chapter
This comes in like hard edged prog movie theme music, then shifts to something that sounds incredibly like Emerson Lake and Palmer. The two modes work through various movements, sometimes cooperating and at odds with each other at different points. It then shifts to a crunch aggressive jam. As this continues on it's a pattern of frantic changes in a succession of sounds including symphonic metal, Dream Theater and epic metal. It changes to something rather Rush like for the first vocals, several minutes into the track. The fast paced changes return later along with another extended instrumental segment that again turns DT like. It eventually drops to pretty piano carrying it forward through another vocal section, this one very pretty and evocative. It eventually bumps back up to a very positive sounding prog segment that gives way to another DT like jam with fusion overtones that eventually turns more metallic in a swirling staccato riff. Then the cut turns to dramatic prog and we're off into another series of changes and themes. This crescendos, then carnival music and sounds take it to its conclusion. At over 19 minutes, this is a modern prog epic.
Imperial Destruction (Bonus Track)
This one is based in the hard-edged prog with DT leanings of a lot of the CD. Once again they pull this through various incarnations, then eventually move it out into a whole new jam with a short reprise of the original themes along with a seemingly never ending array of new musical journeys. This one's not a bad one, but a bit of a let down after the previous masterpiece.
 
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