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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Circus Maximus


Review by Gary Hill

I was very impressed with Circus Maximus’ debut disc and particularly with its manner of combining progressive rock and heavy metal into a powerful mix of music. I was really looking forward to the follow up and now I have it in my hands. I am not really disappointed, but I guess a bit surprised by this disc. I was half expecting these guys to move more towards progressive rock, but instead they have more fully embraced the heavy metal genre. So, looking at this from progressive rock eyes it’s a bit of a disappointment. If one listens with a more open mind, though, this is a nearly perfect album. Every song is extremely strong and there is no filler (and not even a weak point). I have to say that I probably should have put this one in metal, though. I left it in prog while I wait to see what they do next. Either way, if you like killer inventive heavy metal, you can’t do any better than this. It’s certainly one of the best metal discs of the year.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 5 at

Track by Track Review
Darkened Mind
This pounds in with a metallic fury and as it carries on neo-classical, epic metal jamming takes it. At about the half-minute mark they drop it way down for the verse segment. This is dark and a bit like old Queensryche. More prog rock layers come in over this as they move onward. This starts more and more to resemble a cross between the vintage prog metal sounds and symphonic prog. Then they burst out into fairly pure metal. This rocks out quite well through here. The epic modes return for a time, then they move out into a more prog like instrumental segment that manages to combine the two sounds again. A few more alterations continue this juxtapositioning of sounds. An epic jam serves to end it. It’s amazing how much these guys can pack into a five and half minute number. While I like this song a lot, it’s definitely not one that will endear the group to fans of vintage prog. Metal heads should be all over this one, though.
Here we get more progressive sounds, ala Dream Theater. This has frantic changes and angular progressions in the introduction. They move to more pure prog metal approaches for the verse. The segment that follows this takes off more in the vein of the introduction. After another verse section they take it into more melodic territory (still rather crunchy, though) for the next portion of the track. As they turn it towards more pure metal they still hold onto this melodic element. After a while, though, this turns to rather extreme metal for a time and then some epic styled frantic guitar soloing moves it in a rather Eastern tinged jam. This gives way to the first truly classic prog sounding segment of the disc, a keyboard dominated instrumental section that leads back into the verse. A more epic approach serves for the continuing movement and eventually takes it to its metallic conclusion.
A rather nu-metal approach with some keyboards laced over the top open this and then they drop it down towards more stripped down territory for the verse. As the chorus kicks in, it is extremely powerful in a prog-metal sort of mode. They drop it back after this to some more melodic music with a bit more of a prog attitude. This resolves out into a more energized, but still melodic movement. They alternate between the more metallic and melodic sounds (a bit more in keeping with progressive rock). Comparisons to Royal Hunt are probably deserved here as are Queensryche mentions. The guitar solo section is extremely tasty. The closing section sees a return to the nu-metal with keys approach. While this song is still quite rooted in metal, I’d say it’s one of the most effective pieces on show here. This is just plain powerful!
Sane No More
This instrumental is sort of Rush meets Queensryche and Dream Theater. It moves into more neo-classical territory (still quite crunchy) and then off into something more akin to modern neo-prog. There is some tasty keyboard soloing. It is followed on some scorching guitar solo work. They turn it around some killer left turns and intricate changes. This takes on more potent progressive rock zones from there. This one twists and modulates incredibly frequently and is a real powerhouse. It’s probably one of the tracks that will come closer to appealing to prog fans than a lot of the other material.
Arrival of Love
Here they pound in with a crunchy, but very progressive rock oriented sound that carries the introduction. They move this out into powerful verse and chorus modes. While this is definitely metallic enough to please the head bangers, there’s a definite melodic rock feel to the progression and enough prog tendencies to keep it in the realm of crunch-prog. The cool, staggered segment which serves as the backdrop for both keyboard and guitar solos is especially tasty. Another verse takes it before it leads to one more jam that finally ends the piece.
A piano ballad mode leads this off. They move this motif gradually upwards. It’s almost two minutes in before they power it up into a more metallic jam based on the musical themes. They only stay there for a minute or so, dropping it back to the stylings that started things off to carry forward. There is a short, pretty piano solo, then they power out into a very epic metal approach.
Mouth of Madness
At over 12 and a half minutes, this epic is the longest number on show here. It starts off as an acoustic guitar based balladic approach. It rises gradually in a dark and moody manner. It turns quite intricate and pretty after a while. They continue reworking the themes of the song, bringing more power and passion to the table in a measured manner. This shifts out into Eastern tones for a short time before pounding out in metallic fury at around two minutes. This evolves into a more progressive rock/symphonic approach, although it’s still firmly rooted in heavy metal. Then it shifts more towards pure metal, but flourishes of rather classically tinged tones still keep it touched by the spirit of progressive rock. The vocal performance on this is particularly potent and they move it out into another cool jam that reminds me a bit of Long Live Rock and Roll era Rainbow. This turns more epic in nature and then shifts out into a weird nu-metal segment with spoken words over the top, feeling a bit like a more metallic Dream Theater. The guitar screams out in a swirling sort of solo that is full of fire and fury. This movement modulates into different variations of itself as it turns quite heavy. Then they lead out into more epic metal territory once more. Another short burst of prog rock sounds gives way to a frantic epic/neo-classical metal segment based on a staccato pattern. Nearly operatic vocals come in over this to continue forward. It resolves back out into more melodic metal for the next verse. Then a shift to mellower modes takes it into a very beautiful and wondrous soundscape. Still rather sad, this is very pretty, nonetheless. They build upward from there as the next set of vocals join. The vocals become quite evocative before the song shifts gears to move back up toward the more crunchy sounds. The guitar takes a tasty solo and then they add layers of vocals to the mix to bring in a new majesty and power. It resolves out in a rather progressive rock oriented fashion. As they shift out from there the layers of vocals remain to create a more full approach. It just keeps winding upward from there in a display of melody and power that’s just plain awesome. The guitar solos alongside the vocals after a while. Then they shift it outward into a more powerhouse metal arrangement that gets a bit noisy. This leads to a short burst of staccato sound, then they crescendo and bring it back down to near silence. A pretty lullaby sort of sound takes it to its actual conclusion. This track alone is worth the price of admission.
From Childhood's Hour...
This pounds in with a killer metal riff. Keyboards and other layers of sound wander across the top during the introduction, then they drop it back to more sedate elements for the vocals. As they build this up it feels a lot like Dream Theater. They don’t move this one far from its origins, instead intensifying the main themes and adding more power and emotion to the mix. The layers of vocals swirling around one another are quite effective as is the instrumental section. That segment turns very heavy and crunchy after a keyboard oriented portion. This is another that feels a lot like a cross between Queensryche and Dream Theater. I particularly enjoy the extended outro with its varying lines of instruments weaving around one another leading into the climax.
Ultimate Sacrifice
More serious metal takes this out of the gate. They crank out into a frantic jam with keys fighting the guitar for control of the piece. A short transitionary mode gives way to a stripped down verse portion as they move this forward. They turn the volume up on this song structure as they make their way through the piece. The chorus that emerges a little before the two minute mark has a definite progressive rock approach. It’s melodic and powerful. They crank it out into more metal modes after this, though. In some ways I’d look at this one a bit like a 1980’s metal anthem with more modern crunch and neo-prog added to the mix. It’s got a great vocal arrangement and features a cool section that again makes you think of Dream Theater. They make a lot of changes from around the three minute mark forward, running through a series of movements and alterations. They turn it towards some of the most pure progressive rock of the disc at around the four and a half minute mark before turning it back to where it came from. Then we’re off on a similar pattern of changes and alterations. This cut (along with every other piece on the album) is extremely strong. A unique, playful, almost classical soundtrack approach serves as the extended conclusion to the song (and disc).
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