Circus Maximus

Circus Maximus’ debut record really caught my attention a few years ago. Despite a heavy leaning toward Dream Theater worship, it had some really interesting and memorable moments. It’s taken me a little longer to get a bead on the group’s sophomore effort.

There are the good things that I remember from the first record, like the edge of madness freak out that opens the tune “Abyss,” but my first impression of Isolate was that it had followed the Dream Theater sound-alike path that so much prog metal does these days. So, while a song like “Abyss” or the instrumental “Sane No More” provides some musical excitement, songs like “Arrival of Love” and the ballad “Zero” are more of a yawn. If you’ve listened to much prog, you’ve heard them hundreds of times.

On the slower side of things, “Mouth of Madness” provides a high point, opening with vocalist Michael Eriksen singing over a mournful acoustic guitar. A spacy synth line comes in as the song builds to a nice, heavy crescendo. The first electric riff of the song is a perfect example of when Circus Maximus is at its best – when they’re doing these bouncy, slightly unbalanced riffs that kind of break them out of the Dream Theater mold.

I was also somewhat disappointed by “From Childhood’s Hour,” the title of which immediately interested me. Based on my favorite poem, Edgar Allan Poe’s “Alone,” the song really fails to capture the melancholy nature of the poem. It’s too happy and doesn’t manage to convey the underlying insanity, which is strange, considering that mood is what the band does best.

Isolate ends solidly with “Ultimate Sacrifice,” but leaves me longing for more of the edgy, heavy riffing and less AOR influence. The musicianship, as on their first effort, is superb, and Circus Maximus probably still ranks as one of the best of the current crop of prog metal acts out there. It’s a solid enough release, but one that leaves me thinking about those cool riffs and wondering what it might have been like if they’d filled the record with them

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Fred Phillips
February 5th, 2008


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