Circle II Circle
Delusions of Grandeur

I’ve got mixed feelings on the latest record from Circle II Circle. On one hand, Delusions of Grandeur has some really good songs, perhaps some of the best in the history of the band. On the other hand, the flatlined mix is incredibly weak and makes those great songs difficult to enjoy.

In places, it sounds almost like a demo rather than a finished record. A good demo certainly, but a demo just the same. The drums don’t have enough oomph, the guitars don’t have enough bite, and at times, Zachary Stevens’ vocals are so loud that they drown out everything else. No doubt, Stevens’ vocals are the centerpiece of this band, but they’re not all that I want to hear. Unfortunately, on the choruses of songs like album opener “Fatal Warning” and second cut “Dead of Dawn,” they’re about all that you can hear. The mix is so off that at times it sounds like Stevens’ vocals are disconnected entirely from the music, which serves only as background noise.

On to the actual songs – as I said, there are some very good ones here. With a more dynamic mix, Delusions of Grandeur could possibly rival Stevens’ work with Savatage. There are head-on power metal numbers here (“Fatal Warning,” “Forever,” “Waiting”), the dramatic turns that Stevens made his hallmark in Savatage (“Echoes,” “Every Last Thing”) and some fantastic hooks scattered throughout the record. The slower, more dramatic songs like “Echoes” work a little better because the vocals seem to meld with the softer music instead of sticking out. The highlights of the record, however, are the heavier tunes toward the end. It starts with the groove-laden hard rocker “Soulbreaker” which shows Stevens throwing a little blues influence into his vocals. Still I have to wonder what it would have sounded like if that guitar riff was a little more in your face. Then comes perhaps the best hook on the record, “So Many Reasons,” which again has problems with overly loud vocal harmonies on the chorus, but the undeniable groove of it makes up for that.

The mix problems do seem to get better toward the end of the record, or maybe my ear is just getting more used to them. The catchy “Chase the Lies” is perhaps one of the smoothest songs on the record, and the album ends strong with “Every Last Thing,” which brings in a real Savatage feel with the piano opening that builds into metallic riffing and drifts back to a more dramatic mood for the verse. The song also ends with the counterpoint vocal exchanges that Stevens, Chris Caffery and Jon Oliva introduced on “Chance” from Savatage’s Handful of Rain and made a trademark of that band in its later years. No matter how many times I hear that, if it’s done well, I just can’t get enough of it. The finale is really the only song on the record where something in the mix doesn’t bother me.

I hate to keep harping on the weak mix because it gives the impression that I dislike the album. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, but it does do significant damage to the record in these ears. Delusions of Grandeur is a good album, a very good one in fact, but it could have been so much more.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Fred Phillips
May 8th, 2008

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