Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Circle - Sunrise (2002) / 95%

NWOFHM #8: Skulls, swords and masterful sauna fuckery

The band has a highly varied and large discography but the release of a surprising death metal album in 2013 (Incarnation) played entirely by session members. Nonetheless the metal factor was already present throughout many of their previous releases such as Tulikoira (2005), Katapult (2007), Hollywood (2008), Rautatie (2010) but was never totally and fully explored until recently.

Circle are truly an interesting entity, formed in the early 1990s by Jussi Lehtisalo and it's been his main creative focus since then. If you've been following this series of reviews (that's probably not the case!), you're aware that this eccentric Finn has been producing a wide catalog of music, often under the NWOFHM (New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal) banner. Bands with weird monikers like Krypt Axeripper, Steel Mamoth, Pharaoh Overlord, Aktor or Arkhamin Kirjasto became staples of my musical diet and I felt ready to tackle the main course, the legendary Circle.

Sunrise was definitely one of these “almost” metal albums, it's an amalgamation of many genres into one potent but very rewarding experience. I liked all the Circle albums I checked, there's so many that I haven't heard them all yet but there's always a will to experiment and go forward while maintaining an unparalleled atmospheric approach. Their usual sound is a mix of droney experimental rock either instrumental or with unorthodox vocals. An album like Mountain (2005) is a great example of tenebrous drone/experimental/post rock with its two sinuous and long tracks. Sunrise has some of this cuisine on its menu but it's also incorporating a lot of rock and some metal influences. Almost a decade before Pharaoh Overlord's Out of Darkness, there's certainly some similarity between these two. Repetitiveness is one of Circle's main tool and they use it well for metallic and rock songs like the opener “Nopeuskuningas”. It's almost kraut metal as the main heavy and catchy riff is repeated endlessly while these insane vocals are unleashed and then, a psychedelic solo appears and tries to make its way through the might of THE riff for almost three minutes and finally succeeds. The song structures are out there and interesting enough and despite the repetitiveness, it's never boring or too much as the songs are not that long (except that final drone track). They know when to change the tempos and when to incorporate well thought moments of colorful joy (just like the glorious artwork)

The musicianship, like on every Circle album, is impressive and complex in its apparent simplicity. Lehtisalo's leadership is always felt throughout his bass playing (he probably plays the guitar on this album too, the credits are unclear about what each member is playing). It's at its core a prog rock/krautrock record so the guitar, both electric and acoustic, are the focus here but there's also some other instruments like the violin (track 6) and some electronic overtones that are included. Concerning the electronic side of their music, it's nothing compared to some of their other albums like 2011's Infektio.

Get ready to travel everywhere with this album, the second song is some sort of proggy folk pop in Finnish (well, in fact, the whole album is and that's wonderful) and as far as I know (I know nothing about that), it's influenced by native Finnish music. It sounds a bit like the Nordic Canadian music the Innu people make (check out track 4 for another example). This seems to be a mess on paper, right? Well, no it's not, even though the album is fairly diverse and goes from metallic hard rockish drone kraut experimental rock to atmospheric folky and sometimes joyful territories. It's highly condensed and has an extraordinary vision of how it should be, of how it should be constructed and how it should sound.

Sunrise is pretty much a timeless record as it's taking a metallic sort of 70s hard rock, some stoner rock and they threw it in a huge blender with krautrock and a bunch of psychedelic rock. It's timeless because it's still undeniably an oeuvre of its time and that's probably due to the idiosyncratic nature of Finland's musical scene, it doesn't try to be original, it simply is, effortlessly. With the use of clean but highly emphasized vocals, a given for Jussi Lehtisalo's projects, the band goes deeper and deeper into mad realms of genius artistry. I mean, the band was never quite accessible but this album is probably one of their most “gettable” as it's tight and catchy. It's a good way to get into them, I'd say.

Mix Led Zeppelin, Can and Finland and you'll get Circle, one of Earth's best and most original bands. Sunrise is a memorable album and the one I picked as my first review but you can't hardly go wrong with any of 'em.

While I'm the sauna, start your Circle exploration without me, you'll get lost but that's part of the process.

No comments: