Review: Circle ‘Terminal’ 2017

The Finnish collective that makes up Circle are one of those bands that have gathered a small dictionary of words around them, words that all writers must use when referring to them; mysterious, eclectic, mercurial, eccentric. With Terminal they’ve added a couple more in ‘groove’ and ‘swagger’.

Circle 'Terminal'

In truth, Circle have always been pretty groovy but it’s rarely been as upfront, as pure, as it is here. For all its motorik and kraut elements, key parts of Circle’s musical DNA, Terminal is a rock album and a heavy rock album at that. Opener Rakkautta Al Dente shows this by running through, almost sequentially, the development of bands like Deep Purple from relatively straightforward, if psychedelic, guitar music to the vast and ever-unfolding vistas of prog as Mika Rättö’s ululating vocals, whether they are Finnish or something more unearthly is beyond me, sweep from hushed chanting to soaring, Gillan-esque shrieks. Bell-like, crystalline guitars seem to fall, sparking, from the writhing bassline that kicks in just over halfway through the twelve minute track as it slowly collapses into its constituent atoms, then roars back up until the stratosphere. It’s utterly overblown, monstrously yet masterly so.

Which would be all well and good if the album’s title track didn’t have the balls to immediately follow this almost-bloated offering with a perfect blend of Stooges/Jesus & Mary Chain sneer, balancing out the first track’s be-cloaked excesses with the simplicity of a flick-knife in an alleyway. Circle here do their thing of blending so many layers of simplicity that the whole becomes complex and dense with fuzzy layers of interaction, before stripping it away to a single riff and starting over again.

An excellent record filled with great humanity and joy, even as it rages and howls.

It’s this dichotomy that runs through the album, indeed which runs through Circle’s discography, and gives it a narrative spine. The band are jesters, rather than (cosmic) jokers, who use flippancy and excess to thinly veil a contempt for decorum and orthodoxy; like the very best satire, their pricking of heavy metal’s ego is almost indistinguishable from the victim itself. Saxo soars off into a power-metal chorus of such accuracy and sincerity that the weird ploing-oing sound effect that repeats in the background surely must be coming from elsewhere…

As kind of macrocosm of the whole album, closing track Sick Child meta-references that other great user and abuser of rock clichés; the soporific, head-nodding riffs and the clammy-skinned drug kultur of Spiritualised. The woozy guitar and drawled vocals, in English this time, have a deathly seriousness that hovers on the edge of hysterical, perhaps not entirely humourous, giggling. Again, the hint of a knife appears. An offer, one that gleams in the gloom, rather than a threat. Weird billows of purple smoke appear from behind the drum kit and faces writhe within them.

What is most evident in this album, but perhaps only after repeated listens, is that for all the looseness and aforementioned groove the band are amazingly regimented. The individual parts of the, at the time of writing, seven members flow and blend into a single river of great depth, one that has calm flows and raging rapids in equal measure.

An excellent record filled with great humanity and joy, even as it rages and howls.

Label: Southern Lord
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp

Scribed by: Daniel Pietersen