Circus Maximus – Nine
Strangely enough I completely spaced out on the fact that Circus Maximus’ latest effort Isolate is already five years old. Normally I love giving bands crap for stalling new releases (*very unsubtle cough* Blind Guardian *even more blatantly obvious cough*), yet somehow I missed this particular window. As it turns out, the new record, Nine, was delayed by half the band being ankle-deep in fresh diapers from their newborn babies. Cue the “ooohs” and buckets of forgiveness.
Nine follows in the numerologically inept footsteps of Rage’s 21 and has no expedient explanation for its title: third album, ten tracks and I’m out of ideas. It also strays a little from the high-level progressive metal us initiates have come to associate the band with. What we have here is streamlined songwriting, resulting in surprisingly accessible songs with even some – *falling monocle* – mainstream appeal. Purists and elitists should be about bursting into flames right now, but it’s their loss as the talent of these Norwegian innovators is still very much on display.
Perhaps protestors of musical evolution will be distracted long enough by epic opener “Architect Of Fortune” to ease into the proceedings and come to appreciate the album on its own terms. Functioning as a bridge between old and new, “Architect” is up there with “Mouth Of Madness” from Isolate and has one of those ever-building choruses, courtesy of main creator Mats Haugen and voice-from-the-heavens Michael Eriksen. Don’t snatch this guy away, Kamelot, find your own muse.
The more mellow middle portion of the album settles into almost radio-friendliness – “My stars!” – providing short yet punchy songs with still enough intricate guitar play and crystal clear keyboard melodies to be recognizably Circus Maximus. It helps that “Namaste” has a refrain you will forever be greeting people with from now on and this trend of catchy choruses continues on the introspective “Game Of Life”, soft single cut “Reach Within”, the mesmerizing “I Am” (the second song with this title in under a year to top an album), and the up-tempo “Used”. Closing the curtain in style is a one-two of epics with the heartfelt “My Last Goodbye” beating the rather plodding “Burn After Reading”.
Not the traditional progressive metal masterpiece many were expecting, Nine is nevertheless a refreshingly diverse and utterly captivating record from a group in growth. Whether you isolate yourself with this band’s first chapters, is up to you, but this album offers nine+ reasons why that might not be the best idea. Hey, how about that, I solved the title! *puts on clever hat*
Arno Callens’ Rating: 4.25 out of 5