Circle II Circle - Reign of Darkness

Circle II Circle Reign of Darkness cover
Circle II Circle
Reign of Darkness
earMusic
2015
5.5
Circle II Circle have been Zachary Stevens’ vehicle, after the dissolution of Savatage, in which he had replaced Jon Oliva, but in a bizarre turn of events following their first and rather good album, “Watching in Silence”, Jon Oliva hijacked the line-up to form out of it his own Jon Oliva’s Pain band leaving Stevens with the task of securing the services of some new collaborators. He did so, changing members along the way and releasing some six additional albums along the way… with variable results having to rely quite heavily upon the Savatage legacy for live shows, something that also holds half true for the “mountain king” who along with the producer has turned Savatage into a Christmas show, the money making machine known as “Trans Siberean Orchestra”…
 
While Stevens remains almost as strong vocally as he ever was and the faux, Savatage mannerisms lend an air of grandeur in the songs in reality none of the recent albums have felt really spontaneous and non-formulaic feeling more like a contractual obligation rather than a genuine artistic endeavor. It’s a damn shame…
 
“Over-Underture” (betting problem?) feels oh, so Sava… but ultimately leads to…
 
The prog flavored mid-tempo of “Victim of the Night” that mixes some heavy riffing with some light keys with Stevens alone trying to make the song to work… which he half succeeds to do…
 
“Untold Dreams” remains into mid-tempo, but both the smarted riff and Stevens’ more energetic delivery manage to make it a lot more welcome.
 
“It’s All Over” keeps the same generic outlook, and doesn’t manage to really make itself stand out, despite Zachary’s valiant attempts and a playful key-riff.
 
“One More Day” – one more song I’d say… half decent chorus, generic riff, mediocre. It’s hard to dislike a singer as good as ZS, but on the other hand, it doesn’t mean that anything he might sing, will automatically turn to gold.
 
“Ghost of the Devil” is plagued by exactly the same issues, but has Stevens going for a more theatrical delivery that somewhat helps the song not to plod. Yet, its unusual chorus is not a nugget… but at least it’s solo half compensates the first almost memorable one in the album.
 
“Somewhere” tries to create dynamics and while it doesn’t fail, it hardly rips itself apart from the same feel of the entire album, despite all the effort.
 
“Deep Within” initially seems to be heading into ballad territory, but its first verse comes in crushingly heavy only to lighten up once the chorus hits… which by the way is not bad, making it one of the better attempts...
 
“Taken Away” has some nice soloing, but interchangeable other parts with almost everything else on the album.
 
“Sinister Love” is decidedly heavier than anything else on the album, thus setting itself apart no matter what… it also tends to be a little better, but the “chorus” feels like an unfinished bridge/verse… more than anything else…
 
Last but not least, “Solitary Rain” is a ballad and it works rather well, since Stevens’ vocals work well, when not trying to antagonize a whole band. His softer and fuller Bon Jovi, sort of timbre works and the solo is thankfully beautiful and fitting… I could have done without the signature-Savatagy polyphony towards the end, that feels a bit out of place but its OK I guess…
 
Also the cover is again generic and the production despite being “good” feels rather lifeless, failing to gain the performances an edge. I think in general, it’s a combination of many factors that make the album not really work ideally, the same-ness of tempo, the generic riffing on most songs, the formulaic songwriting that touches upon Savatage, but fails to convey what made that band special. A good vocalist alone cannot help alleviate all those issues, so the end result is less than the sum of its parts and as all the peripheral “Sava-family” releases and TSO have been largely less than worthy of the name of that band. I hope that if there is a possibility that the “brand” is resurrected, then that might be done in order to add something to the “mythos” and not just to whore the name for a few more bucks.