Circle


(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

Meronia (1994), 6/10
Zopalki (1996), 6.5/10
Hissi (1996), 5/10
Fraten (1997), 5/10
Pori (1998), 6.5/10
Andexelt (1999), 6.5/10
Prospekt (2000), 6.5/10
Taantumus (2001), 6/10
Sunrise (2001), 6/10
Pharaoh Overlord: #1 (2001), 6.5/10
Alotus (2002), 5/10
Guillotine (2003), 6/10
Pharaoh Overlord: #2 (2003), 6/10
Golem/Vesiliirto (2004), 4/10
Forest (2004), 5/10
Tulikoira (2005), 6/10
Pharaoh Overlord: #3 (2005), 6.5/10
Pharaoh Overlord: #4 (2006), 5/10
Miljard (2006), 7.5/10
Tyrant (2006), 6/10
Tower (2007), 5/10
Panic (2007), 5.5/10
Katapult (2007), 5/10
Hollywood (2009), 4/10
Rautatie (2010) , 5.5/10
Pharaoh Overlord: Siluurikaudella (2010), 5/10
Pharaoh Overlord: Horn (2011), 5/10
Pharaoh Overlord: Out Of Darkness (2011), 5/10
Infektio (2011), 4/10
Noiduttu (2011), 4/10
Manner (2012), 4.5/10
Pharaoh Overlord: Lunar Jetman (2012), 6/10
Six Day Run (2013), 4.5/10
Falcon: Frontier (2013), 4/10
Incarnation (2013), 4/10
Leviatan (2014), 6.5/10
Pharaoh Overlord (2015), 6.5/10
Terminal (2016), 4/10
Pharaoh Overlord: Zero (2018), 6/10
Pharaoh Overlord: 5 (2019), 4/10
Links:

Circle was a mostly instrumental Finnish post-metal combo, fronted by bassist, vocalist and keyboardist Jussi Lehtisalo (the only band member to remain throughout all the line-up changes), adopted a stance that wed progressive-rock, metal riffs, repetitive patterns a` la Steve Reich's minimalist music, "motorik" rhythms a` la Neu, and (occasionally) even new-age trance.

Their early albums were mostly limited-edition experiments. They started their hyper-prolific career with Meronia (Bad Vugum, 1994 - Ektro, 2007), whose lyrics were written in the imaginary language of Meronian and sung in monk-like chanting, and whose aesthetic (if not sound) evoked Magma and Voivod. The eight-minute instrumental Meronia sounds like an exercise in stately synth-based minimalist hypnosis until, midway, the guitar part starts decomposing and turns dissonant; then the repetitive pattern resumes, but this time wielded to the guitar's dissonance.

The double-LP Zopalki (Bad Vugum, 1996) is both a synthesis and a revision of 30 years of prog-rock. Brilliant Colours for Bright Ideas sets the tone with intense Colosseum-style drumming, repetitive guitar patterns and gentle electronic drones. Most of the music is disposable though. The eight-minute Argont, for example, is rather amateurish, predictable and, yes, repetitive. Ghariatan is an embarrassing attempt at Pink Floyd-ian electronic melodrama. A much better case of hypnosis is displayed by the seven-minute psychedelic Zen-garden lullaby Bonoroid. A similar temple-like spiritual atmosphere permeates the slowly revolving Re-Masturbated, while much pomp propels the closer, Gregorium Vaernd Valerii. Circle proved its metal credentials by unleashing some killer metal riffs in Valerian and fusing them with the abovesaid monk-like ethos in Ompatitions.

The mostly instrumental Hissi (Metamorphos, 1996) was more electronic and cerebral, in line with the post-rock revival of the decade.

Fraten (Metamorphos, 1997 - Ektro, 2012) was ostensibly influenced by Witold Lutoslawski, Arnold Schoenberg and the minimalist composers, but fell flat in its overarching ambition.

Surface (Metamorphos, 1998) documented their live performances.

Pori (Metamorphos, 1998) contains some of their most massive compositions: the nine-minute Kruunu Paaha Pori Kuningas, the seven-minute Kartano (that feels like the prog-metal remix of a religious hymn), the seven-minute Promenaadikeskus, etc. The highlight is the 14-minute Porin Jazzjuhlat -65, which blends free-jazz saxophone, jungle sounds, raga-like percussion, crystal guitar chords, and the usual hypnotic Zen atmosphere.

Andexelt (Metamorphos, 1999 - Tumult, 2000) drifted away from the monk-inspired spiritual mood and towards a stately form of prog-rock that balanced drone-heavy music and riff-heavy music. If the result is rather obnoxious in Andexelt and in the nine-minute Odultept, which one could basically compose by simply pressing the "autorepeat" button, the rest tends to be even too varied and diverse. The nine-minute 20Milate begins with Doors-ian bass propulsion and atmospheric piano, as if students were asked to produce a remix of Break on Thru and Riders on the Storm, but then evolves into a syncopated robot dance with alien sound effects. The eight-minute Humusaar is a suspense-filled cosmic fantasia vaguely related to Pink Floyd's Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun but with overtones of vintage electronic exotica instead of the solemn crescendo. Vereftoi dabbles into psychedelic dub-jazz and adds ecstatic synth lines. The 13-minute Kidulgos begins with a lounge-style Brazilian rhythm and blossoms into a melodic space-rock jam. And, to top it all, there's the breezy, careening metal rave-up of Lisaapui. The CD reissue added the 15-minute Fritalan, ten minutes of electronic ambience followed by five minutes of pop-metal guitarwork.

Prospekt (Resonant, 2000) faced the same problem of wrapping cute ideas around what would otherwise be tedious repetition. It fails in the ten-minute Eripwre, but it succeeds in the eight-minute Dedofiktion, whose geometric order is overthrown by a cruising violin and a crescendo of the guitar riff. Motorik beat, bass drone, guitar noise and gypsy violin compete to dominate the tense Gericht. The ten-minute Aarre doesn't change much but its limping blues tempo evokes Captain Beefheart, sprinkled with Gong-like electronics. Two space-rock jams mark a hysterical zenith that brilliantly contrasts the spiritual mood of too many of their pieces: the tribal frenzy Stimulance builds up to a relentless orgasm (like the break of Steppenwolf's Magic Carpet and the break of the Doors' Light my Fire mixed and protracted for eight fiery minutes); and the jazzy subdued Varhain climbs thundering heights of collective noise. The 18-minute Tyolaisten Laulu is a totally different beast: an abstract soundscape, a demonic chant, and a coda of roaring guitar.

Taantumus (Bad Vugum, 2001 - Ektro, 2009) was another diverse collection, ranging from the syncopated, angular post-rock of Kultaa to the liquid jazz-rock of Kekkone. The longer pieces suffer from the usual dilemma of what to do with repetition. The eight-minute Traktors borders on celestial new-age music and boasts a sentimental violin, whereas Pleqton is simply a seven-minute loop of percussive mayhem. Neither has a convincing idea. The spectrum of moods is vast. The melodramatic end of the spectrum is the least successful (the emphatic and deafening Siivet, the hysterical operatic singing of Valtaisa Hahmo). The "comic" end of the spectrum is more entertaining: the sprightly acid-rock bolero Suopea (the standout), spiced with ecstatic female voices, the nuclear blues jam Morn (second standout), and the futuristic funk dance Lyhytaallosta.

Sunrise (Ektro, 2001 - No Quarter, 2007), with the hard-rock of Nopeuskuningas next to the ambient drones of 15-minute Lokki, the live Raunio (Squealer, 2002), that includes the eponymous multi-part suite, and Alotus (Klangbad, 2002) were further stages in the drift of Circle's sound towards a heavier sound.

Guillotine (Ektro, 2003) leaned ever more strongly towards German progressive-rock of the 1970s with the ten-minute Metsan Henget and the twelve-minute demonic dance Teraskylpy.

The albums that followed were uneven to say the least (most): Golem/Vesiliirto (Kevyt Nostalgia, 2004), half live and half studio recording, the live Empire (Riot Season, 2004), the live Mountain (Kevyt Nostalgia, 2004), the folk-ish and mostly acoustic Forest (Ektro, 2004 - No Quarter, 2005), the live General (Kevyt Nostalgia, 2005), the live Arkades (Fourth Dimension, 2006).

Tulikoira (Ektro, 2005 - Headspin, 2008) contained the rare rave-up, Tulilintu, the gothic suspense (first part) and black-metal frenzy (second part) of Rautakaarme, and the 24-minute confused, diluted, prog-cosmic suite Puutiikeri, although the way it reconstitute itself after disintegrating in puerile chaos is worthy of the Grateful Dead. The vocals, in general, are a major nuisance.

Ektroverde, a Circle side-project, leaned instead towards jazz: Mortalaatori (1996), Futuro (1998), Pingvin (1998), Arpeggio (1999), Integral (2000), Ukkossalama (2003).

The double-disc Miljard (Ektro, 2006) marked a serious return to form for Circle. The 20-minute Parmalee is subdued, gentle, brainy, loosely-structured chamber music, a stream of consciousness that begins and ends in a swamp of guitar and piano tones, and eerily sustained by a sinister pulsation. The 13-minute Sophie is even more diluted and dilated, a piano and guitar duet that evokes emptiness and time stillness. The process of musical disintegration proceeds with the 21-minute Duunila, slow-motion and barely audible. a fragile interplay of piano, synth and glitches, but nonetheless stately and profound. The emotional nadir is the agonizing piano sonata Cornelia. At the other end of the spectrum, the more cohesive pieces are the nine-minute guitar proto-blues Manni, another stream of consciousness but this time relatively organized, the eight-minute mechanical piano ballet B.F.F., and especially the 22-minute intrepid gallop of Viitane, a series of variations on a simple pattern that picks up transcendence and impetus as it goes, a sort of dissonant Bach for the age of Terry Riley. To top the devastating mood of the album, Lehtisalo adds the gloomy musique concrete of Muhle and Bakkis. Circle completely reinvented themselves with this album. Jussi Lehtisalo dropped the hat of the prog-rocker and wore the hat of the avantgarde composer. More importantly, he transitioned from the spiritual world to the existential world.

Loyal to the record of ups and dows of their career, Circle followed that career peak with the inferior Tyrant (Latitudes, 2006), containing three lengthy free-form epics: the hypnotic Screaming Luovutus, the ambient psychedelia of Steel Torment Warrior, and, best of all, the ominous crescendo of Amputation Crusade.

Tower (Last Visible Dog, 2007), and featuring electronic musician Mika "Verde" Rintala, was largely uneventful.

The Circle of Panic (Ektro, 2007) were one of the few bands in the world that were trying to bridge two wildly different worlds: punk-rock (the 38-second Germs-style hardcore fit of Neverending Dinner, followed by five more fits of the same kind) and ambient/cosmic/minimalist trance (opener Black Tape, the 12-minute Tunnel, the 14-minute And Far Away).

Rakkenus (Ektro, 2007) and the double-disc Telescope (Ektro, 2008) document live performances.

Katapult (No Quarter, 2007) contains Saturnus Reality and the horror instrumental Four Points Of The Compass.

Pharaoh Overlord, the all-instrumental side-project of Circle's guitarist Jussi Lehtisalo, debuted with the stoner-rock of #1 (2001), which was basically an heavier version of Circle, but, after the mellower #2 (2003), found an original passage to progressive-rock with #3 (2005), a work of lengthy and hypnotic suites (such as the ten-minute Test Flight and especially the 13-minute Laivius 17) propelled by a "motorik" pulse. They final destination, however, was the aggressive, speedmetal-influenced #4 (2006), a far more trivial affair.

Circle's bassist Jussi Lehtisalo and Circle's keyboardist/vocalist Mika Ratto formed Ratto Ja Lehtisalo to toy with dance-punk and synth-pop of the 1980s, as documented on Kopernikus Hortoilee Nakinkengassa (Ektro, 2003), Pari Lepakkoa Transylvaniassa (Ektro, 2005), En Benttonin Briljantti Stabilismi (Ektro) (2006).

Itavayla is the side-project of Circle's guitarist Janne Westerlund that released Itavalta (Verdura, 2005) and especially Itavayla (Rikos Records, 2006), that veered towards a sort of avantgarde space-rock.

Steel Mammoth was another Circle side-project that released Atomic Mountain (Ektro, 2007), The Kingdom Of The Golden Hammer (2008) and Nuclear Ritual (Musapojat, 2009).

Rakhim was a collaboration between Jussi Lehtisalo and drummer Janne that released Rakhim (Qbico, 2006) and especially Crimson Umbrella (20 Buck Spin, 2007), containing Transylvanian Error (17:45) and Ultimate Sword (16.34), orgies for tribal drumming, psychotic vocals and sound effecds.

Doktor Kettu, yet another Lehtisalo side-project, debuted with Soft Delirium (2009) after several limited-edition discs.

Verde (Mika Rintala) released albums for self-made electronic instruments: Vuoronumero (Verde, 2004), Kato Internetist (Musically Incorrect, 2005) and Legenda (Musically Incorrect, 2006), Karmes (Karkia Mistika, 2009). Verde's music is an odd hybrid of downtempo, new-age, chamber glitch and collage music.

Los Angeles-based Jesters Of Destiny's vocalist and guitarist Bruce Duff fronted Circle on Circle's Hollywood (Ektro, 2009), that also includes tracks from the EP Earthworm (2006), Connection and Earthworm. The highlights are the prog-rock suite Madman and the lengthy power-ballad Suddenly, both in an unusual style for Circle, and both rather inept in their respective genre.

Triumph (Fourth Dimension, 2009) is a double-LP live album.

Circle's bassist Jussi Lehtisalo formed Lusiferiini Armosta with Circle's sound engineer Tuomas Laurila on drums and Eetu Henttonen on bass. They debuted with Nuolee (Ektro, 2009). Jussi Lehtisalo validated his ambitions as a composer on his solo albums Rotta (2010) and Interludes For Prepared Beast (Sige, 2012), the latter containing two eclectic and complex 17-minute suites, Caterpillars and Here March The Cranes.

Soundcheck (Ektro, 2009 is a live album.

Circle's Rautatie (Ektro, 2010) was still an incredibly confused work of incredibly confused songs, but at least the pop-metal Vaellus and Rautatie was truly catchy and the melodramatic Kohtalon Sormi and Kaasukello was truly majestic, and Pelkka Meno was truly earth-shaking.

The joke was getting stale, though, as Circle kept releasing albums of mediocre uninspired material like Infektio (2011), with the 15-minute Salvos, Noiduttu (2011), with 4 pieces that go beyond ten minutes, Maxim (Full Contact, 2011), that contains two live jams of 20 minutes each (Satatuhatta and Se Jonka Nimea Ei Mainita), Manner (Hydra Head, 2012), Serpent (Ektro, 2012), another live album, etc.

Split Cranium, a collaboration between Jussi Lehtisalo and Aaron Turner of Isis, debuted with Split Cranium (2012).

Pharaoh Overlord continued to release mediocre albums. The live Horn (Full Contact, 2011) is really just a collection of (four lengthy) rarities. Siluurikaudella (Ektro, 2010) was some kind of psychedelic freak-out stretched over three lengthy (and self-indulgent) jams (the 22-minute Vesitorni, the 13-minute Valujuhla, the 18-minute Piirros), but the music on Out Of Darkness (Ektro, 2011) was just stereotyped hard-rock. On the other hand, Lunar Jetman (Ektro, 2012), featuring Faust's Hans Joachim Irmler on keyboards, was a mature meditation on Neu-like motorik rhythms and Steve Reich-ian minimalist repetition, and possibly their best album since the first three. If the eleven-minute Rodent and the eleven-minute Palmyra Cali are fairly monolithic, monotonous and trivial, the 16-minute version of live favorite Black Horse and the brooding claustrophobic 29-minute Cave Of Hair are significant additions to their canon.

Live performances of Pharaoh Overlord were documented on the cassette Overhorn (Ruton, 2014) and the LP 6000 km/h (Full Contact, 2014).

Surprisingly, Jussi Lehthisalo veered towards pop-metal with Arkhamin Kirjasto, a collaboration with Samae Koskinen begun on Torches Ablaze (Ektro, 2012).

Six Day Run (Full Contact, 2013) was Circle's soundtrack for a film by Mika Taanila, followed by their "death-metal" album Incarnation (2013), with songs that were unusually short and violent, Sseennsseess (2014), another soundtrack for Mika Taanila, and Hukkaamiskielto (2014), another live recording. None of these amounted to much. They also briefly changed name to Falcon for the poppy song-oriented album Frontier (2013).

Leviatan (Full Contact, 2014) is another collection of shorter pieces but this time the stylistic spectrum is exactly the opposite of Incarnation (2013): acoustic psychedelic folk-rock. There is little distortion, no drumming, the vocals are clean, and, above all, the main instruments are the acoustic guitar and the banjo. Huone sounds like a "hare krishna" litany of the 1960s with bluesman Taj Mahal on banjo. The more lively and stoned Protectorate sounds like a cleaner version of Captain Beefheart. Given the very limited number of instruments the songs are surprisingly varied. Rakeita is a gentle, pastoral, instrumental vignette. The pop song Post-Kapitalismus cross-pollinates Cat Stevens' Moonshadow and Syd Barrett's solo albums. The tapestry of wailing and strumming in Hiekkaristi evokes hypnotic esoteric ceremonies. The catchy bouncy novelty Valley even incorporates minimalist keyboards a` la ./avant/riley.html>Terry Riley. This album of drugged campfire singalongs beats many of their more ambitious jam-oriented albums.

Circle released Pharaoh Overlord (Ektro, 2015) at the same time that Pharaoh Overlord released the synth-heavy album titled Circle. The Circle album benefits greatly from the contribution of bass trombonist and tuba player Juho Viljanen. All the pieces are based on the psychedelic trance created by the constant repetition of patterns by the three guitars (Janne Westerlund, Julius and Pekka Jaaskelainen) and by the rhythm section, but Juho Viljanen makes the difference. First, there are two eleven-minute compositions. Koitto begins with soulful humming over hypnotic strumming but truly rises to the occasion when it's derailed by irregular trombone patterns, and something about it ends up recalling film soundtrack of the 1960s. Kavelen Luiden Paalla is a minimalist ballet with distorted fuzz and jazzy horns, ripped by a demonic shout, and with guitar and drums building a sort of Pink Floyd-ian suspense. noisier The shorter Aavasaksa is the noisier piece, boasting more distorted guitar drones than the others and more festive trombone patterns. Madonna Of Viggiano is the only piece that resembles a song, with the singer intoning a very lysergic litany amid the same kind of hypnotic strumming and pulsation. The sound of the trombone adds a sorely needed magic to the repetition.

Terminal (Southern Lord, 2016) is instead an album steeped in nostalgia for the sounds of the 1960s and 1970s. The 13-minute Rakkautta Al Dente is a hodgepodge of quotations from the history of rock music: a bit of Amon Duul II's magniloquent gothic rock, a bit of Rush's prog-rock, a bit of Jethro Tull's folk-rock, etc; a big effort to sing a catchy melody in a demonic tone, and to display the interplay among the three guitarists. The first half of Terminal is a granitic instrumental built around a chord progression reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Astronomy Domine (before Ratto ruins it). The bombastic and hysterical Imperiumi sounds like Guns N' Roses, and Sick Child sounds like a Stooges cover. On the other hand, Kill City jumps forward, to the tedious pop-metal of the 1980s. One of their most forgettable albums.

Pharaoh Overlord released Zero (Ektro, 2018), with the trio augmented by guttural death-metal vocalist Antti Boman and by Faust's keyboardist Hans Joachim Irmler, and 5 (Ektro, 2019), where the band was reduced to the duo of Lehthisalo and drummer Tomi Leppanen and, nonetheless, a very electronic sound.

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(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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