Oddly enough, when I think of Norwegian Progressive Metal, I think AGE OF SILENCE, SOLEFALD and WINDS, three absolutely unique groups. I say oddly enough because no bands that sound like traditional Prog groups really come to mind. Also, Lars Nedland is either a member or guest in all of them. Enter CIRCUS MAXIMUS playing traditional Progressive Metal and for once Nedland’s no where to be found.
There’s nothing really special about CIRCUS MAXIMUS; the tag above (traditional Progressive Metal) should tell you everything you need to know. Sounding like SYMPHONY X, EVERGREY, DREAM THEATRE, FATES WARNING, you know the drill. But despite this seemingly dismissive evaluation, they overcome the myriad knockoffs by doing a better job of keeping my interest through their lengthier tracks (“Mouth Of Madness” and “Ultimate Sacrifice”) and punching up their shorter ones with heavier riffs. This heaviness and some satisfactory time changes manages to save them from the dreaded Melodic Metal label.
As one would expect, all the band members are very skilled at their instruments, though there isn’t as much virtuosic soloing as one would expect from the style. On a note of more personal taste, one factor that kept me at arm’s length (and I seem to be in the minority) was Michael Eriksen’s vocals. They’re in the higher end of the spectrum and just seem to lack the power that could punch these songs up. In “Abyss” it makes the repetitive, derivative bridge to the chorus just a bit annoying.
“Isolate” is a perfectly fine, middle-of-the-road album. There’s a horrific glut of nearly identical Progressive Metal bands out there. While CIRCUS MAXIMUS didn’t give me anything I haven’t heard by the usual suspects. But (and this is a big ‘but’), they have a fundamentally better grip on the intangibles that usually sink the rank-and-file Prog groups. Better than the knockoffs, not as good as the kings of the genre, CIRCUS MAXIMUS is near the top of the middle.
(Online October 19, 2007)