Sunday, April 22, 2012
Circle - "Manner" (2012) [Hydrahead]
Circle seems to understand this-virtually half (if not more) of their catalogue is made up of live recordings. Their incredible improvisational skill practically guarantees they'll slay in the live arena, and their equally far-reaching musical interests means that two hours of Circle unhindered by studio constraint is going to obliterate anything that could have been crafted within walls. Live the songs become beings unto themselves, defined but not confined by their recorded versions, mere templates for exploration. Circle is a band that reaches for the cosmos and usually gets there most every time they take the stage, but those moments and experiments that define the energy and transcendent quality of a Circle gig don't always translate well to the album format. "Manner" is a perfect example.
Much like on "Serpent," "Manner" opens with "Lintu Joe," and it's not an entirely good indicator of the direction the band's going to head in (if there's any actual direction at all, which there doesn't seem to be.) The song plods along at a weird stop/start hiccup, reveling in its own approximation of Uriah Heap style power chord majesty and a schizophrenic sense of the progressive. Blazing rocker "Blue King" is up next, rehashing Judas Priest type-riffage and hardcore velocity in service of NWOFHM glory. It's easily the record's highlight (compared to its placement on "Serpent," where it's tacked on towards the end in a furious dervish of rock onslaught and almost whizzes by unheralded) and reiterates how wickedly metal Circle can be when they want. It almost sounds like an outtake from Pharaoh Overlord's arena-metal worshiping shredfest "Out of Darkness," but where Pharaoh Overlord's approach is entirely tongue in cheek, Circle's is dead serious. Side A closes out with a cover of Brian Eno's "Here Come the Warm Jets," another track that totally kills on "Serpent" but seems tepid and tired here. Gone is the gargantuan monolithism of the band's live take, replaced by twinkling guitars and muted force, an eight minute run-through that builds up to nothing other than a grand sputtering out. On "Serpent" it threatens to swallow all that came before in a swirl of thick distortion and soothing vocal mesmerization-on "Manner" that immersion is transformed into background music.
Side B is even less remarkable, the only track of note being the other "rocker," "Mustaa Kultaa." Taking rock and roll reference to a bizarre outre point, the track barrels across on a raft of post-Nugent regurgitation and an avalanche of guitar solos, resulting in a holy mess of rock glory. It's less effective than its live counterpart, but it's got a venom to it that the rest of the side's tracks lack. "New Fantasy" and "Potero" are both convoluted wishy-washy prog/power metal-bloats that seem more intent on providing an intro to Circle's weirdness for the Hydrahead crowd than they do being serviceable compositions in their own right. "Potero" especially seems strange for the sake of it, a rollercoaster mash up of 1980s Journey-esque fanfare with Frank Zappa style vocal histrionics, thrown together in an indelicate balance of extremes. Sometimes this shit works wonderfully for Circle (see their recent album "Infektio" or the icy jazz atmospheres of "Miljard") but here it's just a boring trip through the usual bag of tricks.
"Manner" isn't awful. It simply isn't great. It feels to me more like an introduction to Circle for American audiences unfamiliar with them; in that sense Hydrahead has given us a decent profile of one of modern rock's most consistently interesting and mind-blowing units. As an album proper, though, it fails to have the power of something like "Prospekt" or "Sunrise." If you were interested in hearing these songs, I would heavily recommend the versions found on "Serpent"-you get the majority of "Manner" plus a number of classic Circle live jams all trussed up in the guise of sword-wielding thrash excess, the truest expression of Circle's considerable compositional power. "Manner" is all that power toned down for fear of offense.