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Review: Circus Maximus - Isolate
Circus Maximus

Label: Sensory Records
Year released: 2007
Duration: 54:44
Tracks: 9
Genre: Progressive Metal

Rating: 5/5

Review online: December 24, 2007
Reviewed by: Larry Griffin
Readers Rating

Rated 4.31/5 (86.15%) (26 Votes)

Circus Maximus, following in the paths of their forefathers Dream Theater, Pagan's Mind and Outworld, are apparently the next rising star in the Prog universe - as this release shows them breaking down more walls with the intricacy and complexity of their world-shattering debut, yet also with an added spoonful of hooky, catchy goodness that will reel you in and keep you there for the entire duration of this album. I love when bands do this - to just bust out complex, involving metal songs that keep you interested and never come out of your head after one or two listens. There are thousands of bands with one or the other, but I seem to find it a rarity for a band to possess both at the same time - which Circus Maximus indeed do on Isolate.

That being said, I like this album better than the debut. The debut is surely a great album, and a grower, but it is dwarfed by the more polished production and heightened level of songwriting ability that Isolate packs within. The band sounds tight and memorable here, and there are no lengthly 19 minute epics to get lost in, and no weak spots at all. Surely the debut will grow on you, but this album has everything that one has, with the added bonus of being able to enjoy it immensely the first time you spin it, and that is a huge plus to me, despite what the more avid Prog fans might claim. The choruses here might be pop-sensible at times (see "Abyss" and "Arrival of Love" for the most blatant examples) but they work extremely well, and serve as a delightful ploy to pull you in before crushing you under a wall of sonic pleasure. And fuck, it's just catchy. That is not a crime, nor has it ever been.

For those who don't know, this band is musically the reincarnation of such bands as Dream Theater circa 1991, but there are very distinct shades of Pagan's Mind's majestic outer-space touch making themselves known as well. Just picture a more modern, heavenly sounding Images & Words and you'd get something like what this album sounds like. Michael Erikson's vocals are right in the middle of James LaBrie's charismatic croon and Nils K. Rue's spacey warble, and I have to say his vocals here are a highlight even amongst Isolate's many highlights. The choruses he belts out are infectious and sticky. and they have a very dreamlike, celestial quality to them, shining with a bright, almost visible radiance that will steal your attention even from the luscious, colorful shades of progressive masterpiece on display in the musical department. Almost every vocal line here sparkles with a heavenly shine that serves to endlessly captivate and dazzle the listener with power and emotion to spare. It's a very early Dream Theater-ish quality, and one I have dearly, dearly missed as they don't really do it anymore - one of my favorite components of early Dream Theater's sound. Just pick a song here, and it will - guaranteed! - have some of the best Prog vocal lines you've heard since Images & Words.

Not to say the vocals are the strongest point here, as they are just one of several high points on this grandiose, epic masterpiece. The instrumentation here is nearly flawless, and every song is, as is expected for Progressive Metal, pulled off with a sharp, concise sense of melody and songwriting power reminiscent of a band that has been doing this for years. Heavy, sparkling passages of musical grandeur ("A Darkened Mind") combine with soft, synth-drenched Prog Rock passages ("From Childhood's Hour," "Zero") to make for quite the endearing and pleasant listen, even for the casual metalhead.

This is an album full of standouts. No real weak points at all, and I'd be hard pressed to go searching for one. Circus Maximus are going to be fucking huge. Highly, highly recommended to Prog fans and metalheads in general - this is one of the very best albums of 2007, and I'm not going to be the only one to say so at the end of the year.

Other related information on the site
Review: Havoc (reviewed by Bruno Medeiros)
Review: Isolate (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: The 1st Chapter (reviewed by Christopher Foley)
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