This another one of those bands that I have heard of but never really listened to. From what I have heard, Circus Maximus belong in the progressive metal category and even though I have a soft spot for some progressive metal, the genre really isn’t my keg of beer. Sure, Dream Theater, Shadow Gallery, Opeth, Symphony X, Flying Colors and Bigelf are all bands that think very highly of and like a lot, but for the most part, whenever someone recommends a progressive metal band to me, they leave me underwhelmed and for the most part, I just don’t bother listening at all. So this Norwegian band has passed me by and they have been playing in the shadows in my musical world. But every band should be given a shot sometime in their career, I guess, so I decided to give them a go now that they have released their brand new album Havoc, their fourth since their debut The 1st Chapter in 2005. The band consists of singer Michael Eriksen, guitarist Mats Haugen, bass player Glen Cato Möllen, drummer Truls Haugen and keyboard player Lasse Finbråten who replaced Espen Storö back in 2005. After some touring with bands such as Kamelot, fellow Norwegians Pagan’s Mind and Glenn Hughes the band decided to record a new record, a record titled Isolate which came out in 2007. It took them no less than five years, to release the follow-up to that one, Nine in 2012 and by then Circus Maximus (they took their name from an antique underpass that ran from the Palantine to the Aventine hill in Rome, built sometime around 500 before Christ by king Tarquinius Priscus) had started to make a name for themselves, much by touring a lot. It seems, by reading in different forums, that Nine is also their most appreciated work up until now. So, four years later the band release their new record, a much long-awaited one, I reckon. But, as I wrote earlier, this will be my first real acquaintance with the band, so my prior references are slim, to say the least.
The opener and first taster “The Weight” makes me wonder why the hell I have waited so long to check this band out. The tune is a melodic hard rocker with some clear progressive vibes and it kind of reminds me of a more plain Threshold. What a great way to start this album. “Highest Bitter” is a slower track, ballad-like in its structure but with some influences from Dream Theater and I can also hear some more modern influences – like Muse and even some American radio rocks stuff ala Shinedown – in the melody, but I have a feeling that is just by coincidence. The song is also really good and I’m getting a really good vibe from the two first songs. The title tracks breaks the mold somewhat as it is a pretty rough hard rocker, shorter than the usual progressive metal track although the progressive elements are still there. The chorus is pretty much in-your-face and even though I don’t dislike the song, I can’t really grasp it either. “Pages”, on the other hand, is great. I can hear such different influences as Promised Land era Queensrÿche, Dream Theater, Flying Colors and even Swedish melodic rockers Degreed. It’s a heavy song, progressive, but with a big melody. “Flames” goes in a more AOR influenced way, like a more progressive Toto and a big pop feel – something I totally embrace – a brilliant piece of work. “Loved Ones” sounds like it’s going for a musical vibe, something that have been a bit common lately with bands such as Jono, Cats In Space and not least Dream Theater taking that into their music. But it’s only a good thing. This is a ballad that also sports a U2 influence with some AOR thrown in. But just to not let the listener get too comfortable, there is also a rough, progressive break in the middle. Killer track! “After The Fire” makes me think of British AOR-rockers Shy if they decided to go prog on us and singer Eriksen sounds a lot like Tony Mills in some places – a very good song indeed. We get some progressive pomp rock in the vein of Styx and Kansas in “Remember”, an awesome track with a brilliant melody. The closing track “Chivalry” is a big, symphonic soft progressive tune with a gorgeous melody and an imminent atmosphere. It’s not a ballad, but it’s not really a rocker either. What it is, though, is a great track to close the album with, it’s the kind of song that makes you want to start the album all over again.
There is a bonus live disc for those who wants to spend some extra green on the deluxe edition and one listen through it, my opinion is that Circus Maximus seems to be a really good live band and if you’re a fan, it’s a no-brainer, of course you have to buy it. But for someone like me, a Circus Maximus first timer, I’m not so sure. There’s some good stuff on it – the track list runs with “Forging”, “Namaste”, “The One”, “Arrival Of Love”, “Abyss”, “Alive”, “Game Of Love” and “Last Goodbye” – and the songs has made me realize that I have to check this band out further, but the deluxe edition is probably more for their more hardcore fans. To sum this album up, I’d say it’s a really good album. The band is sure enough a progressive hard rock band, but just like in the case of Threshold, Circus Maximus are more into song writing than musical show-offs. Sure, there are breaks and it’s not hard to hear that these guys can play really well, but the songs are in focus, not the musical skills. Although some of the influences are a bit too obvious, it’s not like they bother me at all. Besides, this band have their own identity which is all that matters when it comes to a band’s style. Circus Maximus have with this album released a very strong album that leaves me no other option than to check out their back catalogue. Well done. Very well done!
1. The Weight
2. Highest Bitter
6. Loved Ones
7. After The Fire