Circle - Terminal [Southern Lord - 2017]Circle are difficult to pigeonhole. This genre defying outfit from Finland were founded as long ago as 1991 by bassist and vocalist Jussi Lehtisalo. Terminal is the latest in a long list of albums that the band have released over the years, influences range widely from krautrock and progressive rock, to ambient, and heavy metal, with a little bit of everything else in between. Terminal represents their first outing for new label Southern Lord and if ever there were a perfect fit between label and band then this surely has to be it. Southern Lord’s eclectic roster of bands seems to be the perfect breeding ground in which Circle will continue to thrive.
The album opener Rakkautta Al Dente starts with a riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Hawkwind album, or perhaps an early Soundgarden record for that matter. The vocals are an instant surprise sounding much closer in style to those of black and death metal, and yet melody remains the key. Once the track settles into its groove the krautrock influence becomes more evident, a further vocal shift to a clean style somewhat reminiscent of Doug Ingle from Iron Butterfly takes place and leads onto some prog rock style noodling and a dramatic but perfectly placed breakdown. At almost 13 minutes this feels almost like an entire album in miniature, so many different things are going on, and so many changes taking place.
Title track Terminal is up next, and the Hawkwind style riffs are back, the spectre of Brainstorm looms large over this one. It sticks to a 1970s prog/krautrock vibe throughout, the vocals are clean and one could easily mistake it for being released during the golden age of progressive music. Saxo opens with a vocal chant, before musically heading into a progressive style with a more modern vocal style, a further vocal shift in the second half of the track gives the whole track a different perspective, before the chants return us full circle by the end, leaving us back where we started. Imperiumi whilst still preserving something of a progressive rock sound is quite a departure, the vocals instantly remind me of Arthur Brown at his strangest, the track has a real occult rock feel to it, somewhat reminding me of modern purveyors like Ghost. Kill City see’s the return of the Hawkwind riffs, you’d be forgiven for thinking Dave Brock was writing their riffs for them. In my world, this is of course not a bad thing, Hawkwind have written some of the finest riffs in space rock history. Again, this track also a real occult rock vibe to it, the vocal arrangement again reminds me of Ghost, but there is a distinct undertone of King Diamond in there somewhere that just makes itself known once or twice. The final minute and half of the track sees it descend into a mellow floaty slice of ambient prog with loads of space for the instruments to flow into. Sick Child brings the album to a close, the track is a mid-tempo blast through Spacemen 3 or Loop territory that really captures the feel of those bands without sounding like a pastiche or tribute.
Overall Terminal is an eclectic, accomplished slice of progressive music with its roots in space rock and heavy metal. The vocal chants are heavily reminiscent of occult rockers Ghost, and yet the whole thing sounds exciting, fresh and completely their own. This is one of the best and most interesting albums I have heard so far in 2017. After 26 years of making records perhaps they are close to making a commercial breakthrough.Darren Charles