Circus Maximus - The 1st Chapter
Sensory Records
Progressive Metal
9 songs (69'55")
Release year: 2005
Sensory Records
Reviewed by Alex
Surprise of the month

Lately I have been suffering from some nasty headaches. Undoubtedly, the result of stress I am constantly under. Given that, I really preferred later in a day, on my way home from work to listen to something familiar, something I already knew, to just drift away with the music, not trying to “get into” the album. As the supply of the “known” discs in my car dried up, one day I found only new and unlistened material to remain there. I grabbed the top disc, and groaned. “Oh, no” – an unknown band and a prog album besides. I have to say I am terrible with progressive metal, it takes me forever to get into the music. The choice was made, however, the playing started and, strangely enough, I found myself able to RELAX, an unheard of feeling when it gets to this reviewer and progressive rock/metal.

In short, this is how I am able to characterize Circus Maximus, a young Norwegian band, – they are progressive enough to satisfy the most stringent critics, yet they are very accessible, you would not be twisting your brain trying to follow the drift. There are not only weird odd time signatures and syncopated riffs here, there are excellent vocal melodies and choruses to hum as well.

There is another feeling clearly emanating from The 1st ChapterCircus Maximus music is full of bright, sunshine moments and optimism. You can feel it from the clear, heavy, full of grumbling guitar and even unusual for progressive metal double bass drumming in the upbeat opener Sin. You can also feel it from the rocking, pop-like, full of 70s keyboard sounds of Alive. The “happy” feeling was so complete I even checked the lyrics booklet when I got home. Personal, philosophical subjects, no preaching of any kind. More listens actually revealed ominous crunchy riffs to lurk in The Prophecy and Imperial Destruction, but both songs appear toward the end of the album and the bright feeling remains till this day.

Even though the band possesses necessary technical skills, they rarely tend to overplay. The only exception seems to be an instrumental Biosfear, and that is why it is an instrumental, full of jazz-fusion moments, which still find some place for harmony and excellent supertight drumming. On the other hand, when Circus Maximus attempt to go epic (Glory of the Empire) or super-magnum (19 min long title track) they know how to set it up. Acoustic, celestial build-up for Glory of the Empire leads to the grandiose melody, piano interludes and polyphonic multilayered vocal parts. The title track will take a year to fully digest. It starts as a movie score, panoramic, orchestral, provides power metal moments, quiet instrumental middle and beautiful eventual resolution melody. The track is so huge, it was really anti-climactic to put another song, Imperial Destruction, after it.

In the middle of the album sits a no-drums ballad, tender, without a hint of cheesiness. Silence from Angels Above allows for a perfect break and Michael Eriksen to truly shine with his voice. Since I am not a prog addict I wouldn’t really draw any comparisons who he sounds like, but he sounds great, albeit boyish at times.

Combining superb musicianship with an ability to write groovy rocking songs brothers Haugen (Mats – guitar and Truls – drums) have a new force emerging in the Norwegian prog metal scene. “Jonnhy on the spot”, Sensory label is there to pick it up. Tommy Hansen (Helloween, Wuthering Heights) knows how to produce this type of sound, modern, crystal clear, yet heavy, with the strong bass background. I know it is a copout to say that the fans of Dream Theater and, especially, Symphony X need to get a hold of this, but it is true. Let’s just hope that this The 1st Chapter isn’t the last.

Killing Songs :
Sin, Glory of the Empire, Silence from Angels Above, The 1st Chapter
Alex quoted 78 / 100
Other albums by Circus Maximus that we have reviewed:
Circus Maximus - Havoc reviewed by Joel and quoted 82 / 100
Circus Maximus - Nine reviewed by Thomas and quoted 79 / 100
Circus Maximus - Isolate reviewed by Ben and quoted 90 / 100
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