It's not easy leaving a band like SAVATAGE after an eight-year run, but former vocalist Zachary Stevens didn't waste any time forming another first-rate melodic metal project with CIRCLE II CIRCLE. The 2003 debut album, "Watching in Silence", was made of AOR-style melodies, power metal shades, and progressive metal flavors. The same can be said for "The Middle of Nowhere", though it's hardly the same album with a different title.The hooks are again superior, just not quite as over-the-top as the material on "Watching in Silence". The guitars are crunchier and the tuneful solos even better this time around. The chunky and rumbling bass lines add texture as well. Along with the thick riffs, the four-string heft and crisp drumming gives the arrangements a muscular feel. Once again Jon Oliva provides arrangement assistance, proving once again that "filler" is not a word in the guy's vocabulary. The first half of the album features the most memorable melodies, the choruses hitting with much the same impact as was heard on the debut. Beginning with the ballad-esque "In the Life" and cruising on through catchy nuggets like "All that Remains", "Open Season", "Holding On", and "Cynical Ride", the first batch of infectious choruses is guaranteed to make the biggest impression. Other listeners may prefer the mellower fare of the title track with its majestic vocal harmonies, or perhaps the acoustic beauty of album-closer "Lost". Add to those two tracks the grittier, riff-driven fare of "Hollow" and "Psycho Motor", not to mention the brooding grandeur of "Faces in the Dark", and one might say the album's latter half is more mature and musically varied than "Side A." And of course Stevens' vocals are dynamite! Why would it be any different this time? What we have here is a great example of metal backbone and outstanding pop sensibility. Ten excellent tracks and ten reasons to play "The Middle of Nowhere" over and over again.
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