Norway's CIRCUS MAXIMUS exploded onto the scene in 2005 with one of the year's best progressive metal albums in "The 1st Chapter". The disc stunned as much for its members' talents as for its incredibly infectious melodies. Taking cues from the obvious juggernauts of the genre (DREAM THEATER, etc.), the group crafted an album that many praised for its purity of form and exquisite melodies. New effort "Isolate" is not simply mimic its predecessor. Instead, it is a darker, relatively more challenging listen that retains the band's knack for penning catchy melodies, yet requires a tad more time for absorption. The end result is largely the same though, that of a wholly satisfying progressive metal monolith.With a new keyboard player in tow (Lasse Finbraten), CIRCUS MAXIMUS has crafted a concept album of sorts, one with a theme pertain to a steady descent into insanity, perhaps explaining the album's colder, brooding feel in parts. So as not to mislead, it is important to point out that "Isolate" is a logical progression from "The 1st Chapter" in that the group has spread its wings a bit, but continues to ground its impressive playing firmly in the art of song craft. The two songs with the most memorable melodies, "Abyss" and "Arrival of Love", also happen to be closest to what is heard on the "The 1st Chapter". Album opener "A Darkened Mind" is a hard charging number that emphasizes the riff and stimulates the senses with a strong melody of its own. Vocalist Michael Eriksen is the guy that pushes these melodies into the stratosphere, his silky pipes pitch perfect and addictive on several levels. The remainder of the album, the second half in particular, sees the band wading in icy cold waters on a beautiful ballad called "Zero". Thirteen-minute opus "Mouth of Madness" does not so much bob and weave through a progressive maze of intricacy. Rather, it works a little more subtly with lush instrumentation and obsidian hues, managing to hold one's attention for the entire journey. Solid instrumental track "Sane No More" works splendidly in the context of "Isolate" as well. "Isolate" is an album that is a no-brainer for any fan of progressive metal. It is also an easy recommendation for those desiring a disc that emphasizes songwriting, but is still virtuosic. "Isolate" is a worthy companion to "The 1st Chapter", yet not for entirely the same reasons. In short, CIRCUS MAXIMUS has once again gotten it right.
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