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Album Reviews : Circles – The Last One

By on November 4, 2018

Circles began life at the fore of the djent ‘genre’/movement of the early 2010s, with an EP Compass in 2011 and a full-length Infinitas in 2014. The Last One marks their first release since Infinitas, following a series of line-up changes, and demonstrates the musical developments of the past eight years. For one, djent turned out to be somewhat short-lived, with many of the bands that were once its vanguard moving back towards more ‘conventional’ progressive rock and metal styles. Such is the case of Circles, giving up much of the djent flavour of their early material in favour of progressive rock/metal characteristics in the vein of fellow Aussie acts Caligula’s Horse and Karnivool. Ultimately, while a good effort, The Last One ends up feeling somewhat incoherent, a transitory record between an outdated style and potential new directions which doesn’t quite commit to either.

Production values and songwriting technique are both generally high across the record. The album sparkles with the sheen of modern prog with a slightly heavier emphasis on the low-end that belies the djent origins of the band. Surprisingly, the guitar is toward the back of the mix, but all parts can be heard clearly and there are some nice moments of timbral cohesion amongst instruments while general musicianship is strong. The songs are well written in a structural sense: there’s adequate variety, a good sense of build and a general sense of cohesion to individual songs. ‘The Messenger’ begins as a relaxed song that builds really well to a lovely vocal melody and small solo at the end with a good dynamic arc. ‘Dream Sequence’ provides a fairly aggressive intro that meshes well with the rest of the song and shows a big influence from early Periphery, demonstrating that there is a way to showcase their djent aspects well. Choruses are generally strong across the album, striking a nice balance with melody and complexity, with the chorus of ‘Breaker’ standing out as an especially strong example of engaging songwriting and a potential direction for the band. ‘Renegade’ progresses well as a song from a slow intro into a darker and heavier song with a great bridge section. The only individual song that really misses the mark is ‘Blueprints for a Great Escape’; While the song works decently, it’s lacking a hook that really draws the listener in and pushes it beyond just being an average song.

While most of the individual parts of the album work well, it ends up being less than the sum of its parts. The biggest issue is a lack of stylistic cohesion across the album. Circles seem to be unwilling to completely shed their djent origins, resulting in moments across the album where the tired tropes of djent bands mire songs that are otherwise strong. While ‘Breaker’ has a strong chorus, the post-rock/metalcore vibe to parts of the verse distract from other moments of the song that are strong like the quiet bridge section and the progressive dissonance at the end. ‘Arrival’ and ‘Tether’ both feel like they’re leaning a bit too hard on falsetto vocal tropes that recall some of the grating parts of djent, as do the ‘vulnerable’ vocal moments on ‘Resolution’ and ‘Alone with Ghosts’. While these are not bad per se, they feel tired and out of place when juxtaposed with some excellent melodic progressive rock/metal sections. Across a full listen the similarities between individual songs end up becoming clearer. ‘The Messenger, ‘Arrival’, ‘Resolution’, ‘Renegade’ and ‘Alone with Ghosts’ all begin with slow, extended, atmospheric introductions, accounting for nearly half of the albums on the song. Again, while individually done well (many of these intros are highlights of the album), these aspects stagnate across a full album.

Those looking for a pure djent album will likely find themselves frustrated that only the basic elements of the genre are retained in The Last One, while those more interested in the progressive elements may find themselves distracted by the tired tropes. There’s nothing wrong with progressive rock with djent influences (or, for that matter, djent with progressive rock influences), but The Last One suffers from not being sure of which style is the main event and which is the ‘influence’. There is still promise here and there are some genuinely great moments across the album. If Circles are able to take the more engaging elements of The Last One and clarify their style and sound more closely in a future release, then they’ll have some truly engaging modern prog on their hands.

Band: Circles
Album: The Last One
Year: 2018
Genre: Progressive Rock
Label: Wild Thing Records / Season Of Mist
Origin: Australia
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About

Ben is a metalhead originally from Sydney, who has now moved to Hobart to pursue a PhD in Australian extreme metal. When not studying, writing about or playing metal, he can be found playing video games, browsing Reddit, knitting, fending off his cat or helping out at his local church.