(We gave a very favorable review here to the second album by the German band The Circle, which was released last month by AOP Records. Comrade Aleks enjoyed the album too, and that led to the following interview with the band’s composer and guitarist Stanley Robertson.)
Stanley Robertson (guitars) and Alex Wirt (bass) played together in the epic melodic death metal band Vagrant from 2016 to 2020. They both decided to change its name to The Circle and change the style as well, to symphonic black metal.
When Alex left The Circle, Stanley recorded the project’s first album Metamorphosis on his own with guest vocalist Asim Searah in 2021, and then Stanley, Asim and Philipp Wende (drums) recorded the sophomore album Of Awakening as a trio.
The album was released by AOP Records on August 18th, and it was interesting enough to make me want learn more about this band. Hameln’s guitarist Stanley Robertson is here with us tonight.
(We thank Nathan Birk (Suspicious Activities PR) for organizing the interview.)
Hi Stanley! Accept my congratulations on the release of your second album Of Awakening! How actively do you spread the word about it? Are you on a tour already?
Thanks for your congratulations and for having us here! We are currently still in the promotion of our album to push it as good as we can. Currently we are not on tour and nothing is planned for the moment.
It’s said that The Circle is the reincarnation of Vagrant, an epic melodic death metal band where you and Alex Wirt played since 2016. The Circle performs symphonic black metal, so how much of Vagrant is in it indeed?
The decision to rebrand the band was obvious – we consider there is not much Vagrant in our music any more, and after all we have grown in a new direction. Vagrant was my first experience as a composer and I didn’t know where I wanted to be. With time, I gradually discovered what I really have to say with art in general.
The Circle’s first album Metamorphosis leaves an impression of being a concept album. There are four chapters, and it’s pretty short, only 27 minutes, so it looks like a part of your plan. Of Awakening is quite compact too – five tracks, 33 minutes. Is there some concept behind it too?
Yes, all albums have a concept behind them. Before writing any album, there is always an idea that sets the ambience and vibe for it. Of Awakening is about human egoism and how we do everything in order to achieve our aims. Yet also, about the realization of what such behavior can cause in our environment. We keep it compact, since we only want to say what is really necessary. If we felt that more needed to be said, the albums would get longer as well. It always depends on the initial idea we have.
You’re from Hameln, Lower Saxony, and this region has a rich and long history. How does your environment influence your music?
To be completely honest, my hometown has actually no influence on the music we write. It’s more about life and experiences we make. About an emotional journey, and whenever something happens on this journey, I write music about it.
Alex left the band in 2022, and Philipp Wende took the drummer’s duties in early 2023. I see that Philipp took part in the Of Awakening recording. How did you manage to organize this replacement and the recording sessions so fast?
Actually, Philipp joined already before Alex had left, so there was no stress or rush included. All music was written before his departure and since he didn’t take a part in recording or writing music in the band (he did more visual things like graphics, photos, and videos), there was no difficulty for us. Regarding the video and photos, it turned out to be more complicated, but our label helped us out with some connections.
What was your primary goal when you entered the studio and started to record the new material? Were you satisfied with Metamorphosis enough to follow a similar direction?
I think Metamorphosis was a good starting point and the direction was there. Yet the implementation was not fully where we wanted to have it. On Of Awakening we tried to improve everything that we felt was wrong. Played drums and violin, proper bass player to perform the parts, overall more dynamic production, and a rawer, unique atmosphere that you can dive into. I think that’s what we completely achieved here.
Which qualities of black metal do you see as crucial ones in The Circle? Which bands formed your vision of the band?
Simply stated, for The Circle it is crucial to ‘hit’ you profoundly on an emotional base. It’s about a tenebrous and grave atmosphere that drags you deep into yourself to face your inner dark side. Such an atmosphere is often found in modern black metal I think.
That sounds quite untypical, but we try not to take any direct inspiration from bands. It’s more about what the song needs to say, how we capture it and what sound is needed. During writing I hear a kind of soundscape in my head and try to capture this vibe and atmosphere I have laid out in my mind.
You describe The Circle’s genre as “Art Metal”. Which meaning did you put in this definition?
Art Metal for us is not only about the genre. It’s about everything around it. The music, lyrics, concepts of the stories we tell, photos and videos. How we express us in any form of art, is very important to present the viewer a full piece of art based on small pieces in visual and music-based aspects. It’s about high emotional expression that comes from deep inside and reveals you as honestly as possible.
Tim Charles performed parts of violin for some songs, but I think that I heard some extra parts of mandolin or balalayka in the end of the title-song. Did you record some extra arrangements in addition, like it was with Metamorphosis?
Yes, that is correct. We use a lot of traditional Japanese/Asian folk sounds like a Ghuzeng, for example. That instrument can sound similar to mandolin. The percussion and some ambient synths were used as well – all those sounds are organically melded so it creates one big atmospheric music wall.
Were there parts that were technically difficult for you during this session?
Not directly parts, but the recording in general was very challenging. We tried not to get the “perfectly”-played performance with everything being robotic, like achieved through edits. It was about getting the right vibe for each part performed, still played on point, but having this extra edge. Having the soul and emotional base delivered with every recorded part. That’s what is often really difficult to hit right.
There are a lot of new bands appearing each year, though black metal remains an underground genre with rare exceptions. How do you value your chances to get in a higher league? What are your ambitions after all?
Our ambition is to write the best music we can, achieving our own sound that represents who we are. Reaching the “higher league” depends on many other factors than just music, I believe. You can write music that might be on the level of such bands, but you need to be on the road a lot and hit the right time and spot with it. The audience decides on it after all. We believe in what we do, that we carry a sound that is unique in many ways and that sticks out. Only time and the future can tell how it will develop.
How tight is your touring schedule for the rest of 2023 and what are your further plans for The Circle?
Touring-wise there is nothing on the map, as I said earlier. We want to continue working on new music, and in 2024 there is maybe a possibility to see us on tour. Nothing set, but we will see for sure.