Aug 102023

(Andy Synn reviews the debut album from The Circle, out 18 August)

While we try our best here at NCS to keep up with everything that’s coming out, the truth is we’re easily distracted by shiny things and loud noises, so we don’t always catch every new release before it comes out.

But we do try our best, at the very least, to keep an eye on bands and artists we’ve written about before – case in point, check out The Circle‘s first EP, Metamorphosiswhich I reviewed here back in 2021 – to see how they grow and develop over time.

So how does the band’s new album, Of Awakening, compare to their debut?

It shouldn’t be too surprising to hear that Of Awakening isn’t a huge transformation from Metamorphosis – you don’t fix what isn’t broken, after all – with perhaps the most notable change being the addition of drummer Philipp Wende (also known for his work in Temple Koludra) to the band’s line-up, with the result being a more natural and nuanced drum sound when compared with the programmed percussion of their previous release.

At the same time, however, it’s worth noting that this isn’t just Metamorphosis, Part 2, as while the band’s love of deliciously dark melody (aided and abetted by frequent embellishments of melancholy violin) and knack for penning devilishly dramatic riffs remains, it’s clear right from the moment that opener “Ruins, My Dying World” kicks into powerful, blast-propelled motion, that Of Awakening is a much more intense sonic experience.

At their fastest and most furious, songs such as the aforementioned “Ruins…” and fantastic nine-minute finale “Ashes and Fading Tides”, recall a moodier and more morose version of Keep of Kalessin – with the band’s blend of sombre symphonics and rhapsodically-heavy riffage making for a shamelessly hummable, irresistibly headbangable good time – while the doomier and gloomier passages interwoven throughout the album owe a fair debt (whether consciously or coincidentally) to the mournful majesty of In Mourning and October Tide.

It’s a compelling mix of ideas and influences, that’s for sure, and I doubt anyone who enjoys the more melodic and melodramatic end(s) of the Black Metal or Death Metal spectrums – and, let’s be honest, there’s definitely places where the lines between those two styles become more than a little bit blurry – will fail to find something to enjoy here (even if it’s just the impressive way that the group incorporate the orchestral elements without allowing them to steal focus).

But the real promise is found in the title-track and (especially) penultimate powerhouse “Reign of the Black Sun” with both the massive riffs and moody atmospherics of the former and the electrifying energy and vibrant, visceral vocals (both harsh and clean) of the latter reminding me of Horizon Ablaze at their very best, albeit with an unexpectedly thrilling theatrical twist to further sweeten the deal.

So while Of Awakening probably won’t end up being the sort of outsize box-office blockbuster that perhaps the band (and label) might be hoping for – in a rare turn, it actually feels a little too short when all is said and done, and I’d argue that one more shamelessly grandiose bit of metallic grandstanding would have potentially put it over the top – there’s no question that it’s a creative and artistic triumph from a group who, it seems to me at least, have fully found their voice and aren’t afraid to use it.

  2 Responses to “THE CIRCLE – OF AWAKENING”

  1. How about that Awinita Alm cover art? Her stuff is great and this one is my favorite.

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