Shadow Circus - Whispers And Screams
Self-released
Progressive Rock
11 songs (1:09:19)
Release year: 2009
Shadow Circus
Reviewed by Goat

It's probably unfair of me to compare Shadow Circus and Shadow Gallery, but discovering two bands with such similar names in the same space of time means that I will forever associate them together, and whilst I've learned to like Shadow Gallery, it was instant love for Shadow Circus. Where the former don't make great efforts to stand out from the genre's confines, the latter are a freewheeling cavalcade of joyful exuberance, off exploring the outer limits of Jethro Tull's and Genesis' respective classic sounds, fashioning four-minute explorations that fulfil prog needs without neglecting catchiness at all. Yes, yes, originality in Prog more often than not depends on finding a band that no-one else knows of, yet in terms of simple enjoyment I found myself enthralled by Shadow Circus to a much greater extent than I was by Shadow Gallery. It's all too ironic that Shadow Circus are an unsigned group on their second full-length whilst Shadow Gallery have been going since 1985 - such is life.

Still, I owe a big thank-you to Classic Rock magazine for bringing Shadow Circus to my attention, since otherwise I would have blithely gone by and missed them - we all find music in the most unexpected of places, and my innate cynicism leads me to expect disappointment more often than not. Well, I'm certainly not disappointed with Whispers And Screams, that's for sure. Imagine every genre of rock ever, distilled of their best elements and produced into a single molten bar of aural gold, and you have Shadow Circus in a nutshell. The band, hailing from New York, are very talented and meld that with the sort of love for prog that only another prog fan could recognise and acknowledge. The opening complex rhythms of Captain Trips, which sounds most like Dream Theater crossed with Deep Purple, draw on multiple influences without directly stealing anything, and it's hard not to be gripped, especially when you realise that the first seven tracks make up a half-hour plus extravaganza called Project Blue.

As lengthy tracks go, this is excellent, moving between rockers and more laid-back synth and piano-driven pieces, transitions never feeling jarring or out of place which is perhaps thanks to guitarist John Fantana also playing the keyboards on the album. As mentioned, all of the musicians here are very skilled, but it always surprises me just how much - whether it's Jazz-trained drummer Corey Folta or the excellent backing of bassist Jason Croft, there is absolutely nothing to criticise, and of course vocalist David Bobick does them proud. He has good deal of range, but generally sounds like a rawer Phil Collins, stripped of the sissy side-project whininess and channelling Ian Anderson in full-on frontman mode, ringmaster of the circus. Selecting highlight moments is hard, but the keyboard histrionics in The Seduction Of Harold Lauder were especially enjoyable, as were pretty much all of Bobick's vocal lines - just one of the band's strengths is in operating as a unit, and each member's playing complements the other.

It is possible to see faults if you look hard enough. Proggers more veteran than I may find the influences way too heavily on the band's shoulders - I'd disagree fully with this, given moments of sheer genius such as the meeting of Eastern and Country sounds on The Horsemen Ride, complete with hand percussion and twanging acoustic guitars. Whispers And Screams also demands attention; like a lot of prog, you need to focus on it if you want to enjoy it at all, but the rewards are copious. Even after the aforementioned epic piece the closing tracks are great - after the final part of Project Blue, the almost gospel, balladesque Coming Back To You, the band play another ballad in the form of When The Morning Comes, vocals, cello and piano making what could be twee and grotesquely saccharine actually rather emotional and sweet, although it is at least a minute too long. Fortunately, the ten-minute Willoughby follows, starting with unaccompanied piano and soon building into a Prog Rock explosion that's as much about the Rock as it is the Prog, plenty of drum crashes and piano putting it firmly in the classic rock zone, before the second half takes it into prog heaven, instrumental wizardry and almost ambient melody with, of course, some asskicking guitar soloing from Fantana.

The album finishes with the instrumental ...Then In July, The Thunder Came, going nearly symphonic with militaristic drums and wistful melodies - hinting at future glories, perhaps? I can't help but wish I'd have heard this sooner, as it would certainly have made my list for the best albums of 2009. As it is, remember the name, as with the right record label taking interest Shadow Circus could become very big indeed - let's hope this isn't at the cost of a reduction in their Prog elements.

MySpace
Killing Songs :
All of Project Blue, Willoughby, Angel, ...Then In July, The Thunder Came
Goat quoted 89 / 100
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