Circus Maximus – Isolated Chapters Review

GenreProgressive Metal
Release Date6 September 2019
Record LabelFrontiers

Circus Maximus are a progressive metal outfit hailing from Norway. While they’ve been around for nearly two decades (and they’ve maintained a steady lineup for almost as long), they’ve only released four full-length albums. Their latest EP, Isolated Chapters, is their first new-music release in three years, following two live albums. The EP offers two very different experiences and packs a whole lot of variety into its short runtime.

Since there are only two tracks on Isolated Chapters, this review will pretty much be a track-by-track (which I like to avoid doing). But that’s just fine, because it gives me a chance to elaborate a bit on the band’s song choice; for the first, we hear a darker, heavier, more dissonant side of Circus Maximus, and get a feel for their technical skill as well as their solid songwriting, but the second delivers a far lighter, more commercial impression. As such, the band’s strengths and weaknesses are exposed and right in the open for everyone to see.

Upon the first minutes of ‘Phasing Mirrors’, images of mid-Dream Theater immediately come to mind. In fact, every time I finish the song, the most prominent thought I have is how much it reminds me of ‘A Nightmare to Remember’ from their album, Black Clouds and Silver Linings. Yeah, this song is a few notches down with regard to impact and staggering technicality, but the song structure and looming atmosphere are enough for me to make the connection. Anyway, references aside, ‘Phasing Mirrors’ has a sick proggy break about four minutes in, and there’s also a great pulled back section which sounds like a spooky Tim Burton sequence. Topped off with a few killer guitar solos, key solos, and an exceptional wraparound structure, ‘Phasing Mirrors’ is one of the best single prog songs I’ve heard in months.

But then we get to the second and final track: ‘Endgame’. It begins like a fluffy 90s power ballad, and remains pretty tasteless until about the four minute mark. I’m not gonna say it’s one-dimensional until then or anything like that, it’s just a weak beginning section, especially considering the excellence that precedes it. The song finally goes somewhere after a transition of uplifting shots, and yet another facemelter lifts off. But then, the song continues steadily until it exits with a soft piano line. I wouldn’t call ‘Endgame’ a bad song, but it’s way watered down compared to what Circus Maximus shows off in that first one.

I don’t really have any complaints beyond the difference of quality between Isolated Chapters‘ two songs. The rhythm section is great and very tight, the solos are awesome, and the vocals, harmonies, and melodies guide the music masterfully. I strongly encourage giving this EP a listen. It’s short, sweet, and you’ll probably come back for seconds.

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Stay Metal \m/

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