Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Circle - Katapult
More Circle for my friend Duke.
"Inside the sleeve of Circle's umpteenth album Katapult (there have been more than 25 since 1991) and under the disc are the initials "NWOFHM." They stand for "New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal." This is the same band who've brought everything -- from their own version of a trance-inducing, circular, overdriven, droning update of classic Krautrock to restrained imaginative acoustic ambience (2006's Miljard), to rugged wily, punk ethos-infused boogie rock (2007's Arkades), to jazzed downtempo fusion à la Miles Davis' In a Silent Way and the sonic grooviness of Tortoise (2007's Tower). But this is no mere heavy metal recording -- death, black, progressive, power, or otherwise. Circle have too much of an individual ethos to downright ape anything. They have a "sound" that they've brought to every single record that bears their name, and even to some side projects of their individual members' (Pharaoh Overlord for one). That said, Katapult is yet another side of the band none of us has heard before. There are big repetitive rhythmic grooves, riffs, and psychedelic space rock moving ever forward toward nowhere but out. The pulse is constant and it breathes. But the vibe on this recording is downright dark and nasty. Hard and crunchy at the outset, "Saturnus Reality" opens with a full guitar throttle on a riff and a percussion throb powered by rumbling basslines you've heard in everything from early Hawkwind to Celtic Frost to Motörhead. But keyboards enter the picture as Jussi Lehtisalo growls à la Andrew Eldritch from the Sisters of Mercy at his most sinister, even as the backing vocals are sung in falsetto! "Torpedo Star Throne" picks up right where it left off, even as skittering snares, electronic loops, synths, and crunchy guitar start pushing from the back to the front and overtaking the tune, making the "circle" (no pun intended) spin faster and faster even as a big church organ plays at quarter speed to deepen the chill. And chill it does. There is something mysterious, and truly nasty sounding, about this album. Katapult is in some ways a return for fans of the old Circle, but it's something further out than the band has ever tried before. As the tracks move on -- all of them are relatively short, between three-and-a-half and six-and-a-half minutes (short for Circle in full-on pummel mode) -- alien sounds and deeper textures start to settle in. They never replace the guitars, bass, and drums, but they lengthen the shadows considerably and make themselves felt. What's left is a completely psychedelic, and seamless, mind blowing affair. Ambient soundscapes creep in on "Black Black Never Never Land," yet even as the title is chanted over and again, the six-string slash and burn and triple-timed drums never cease their incessant struggle for domination -- even as wafting vocals buried in the mix carry themselves forth to float just under the mix. Effects, textures, colors, shapes, and riffs begin to intermingle and entwine; they create a harrowing sonic journey for the listener in and out of tunnels of echo, reverb, weird '70s glam rock-style bridges to angular synth patterns (that are literally next to one another in the closer "Snow Olympics"), and so many other topsy-turvy flips and labyrinthine flops, that Katapult should be a mess. It's not. It's as tight a record as this band has ever pulled off while still sprawling into infinity. This is Circle at a whole new level in an entirely new direction and more focused and frighteningly intense than they've ever been. - Thom Jurek