Wow, what an impressive debut from these Norwegian progsters! I feel the same way about prog metal as I do about power metal: some of it I like a great deal and some of it does absolutely nothing for me. CIRCUS MAXIMUS' "The 1st Chapter" does damn near everything for me.The 70-minute ride is worth it for the exciting instrumentation, but more importantly for those sensational moments of pure pop sensibility. It's also the manner in which vocalist Michael Eriksen hits those notes with such passion. His smooth delivery is of the bright and shiny variety, yet the power in those pipes is beyond question. The guy can just plain carry a tune and his style is perfectly suited to the canorous bliss heard on the choruses of "Sin", "Alive" and "Why Am I Here", to name just a few. The band does rock hard and the arrangements are stimulating, yet it's the lush vocalizations and infectious melodies that just slay me. A different band might come off as wimpy or so aseptic that all the character is sucked out of the tunes. Not so with CIRCUS MAXIMUS — when the songwriting is this good, the last thing you're concerned about is dirt under the fingernails anyway. Like any great band, the awareness of all those "little" things — the perfect parts, the album pacing, using the right instruments in the right places — is essential, something CIRCUS MAXIMUS obviously comprehends. The sections of piano on "Imperial/Destruction" are filled with life-affirming energy. When the ivories arrive, the result is breathtaking. Rather than breaking momentum, the four mellow minutes of "Silence from Angels Above" is simply one more example of the band's skill at harnessing serenity and capturing grace. This is still progressive metal, so there are opportunities galore to bask in the glow of lengthy jams and instrumental virtuosity, the 19-minute title track being the most proggish of the bunch, followed by the 10-minute "Glory of the Empire". I can't help but come back to those scintillating melodies though. To my way of thinking, it's the difference between being impressed by a prog album and being swept away by one.
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