Review Summary: Whoa. Sounds like someone's senior philosophy seminar gone awry with the assistance of some very pure acid.
From the liner notes: In a nutshell the concept behind the songs was to document the different points on a path to self-realization. In our interpretation of this journey, the wanderer ends up essentially in the same place that he or she began, if not humbled and even more overwhelmed. In a sense the ending is somewhat tragic, but without experiencing all of the lows how can anyone ever appreciate the amazing subtleties that this world has to offer? And so, if the search for beauty and understanding is cyclical and unending, then at least we'll never stop experiencing the thrill of the hunt...
Whoa. Sounds like someone's senior philosophy seminar gone awry with the assistance of some very pure acid.
The trio that is Circle Takes the Square is not for the faint of heart. This album contains no sense of humor. If you're the type of listener that can't stomach the drama of a Beethoven concerto, CTTS may not be for you. Phrases like "concrete rapture" and "sedated mythology," and words like "infinite" and "pensive" pepper each track's canonical lyrics. There are times, while listening, that I feel like I'm watching Iron Maiden perform. Seldom in this day and age do we see someone who takes their craft as seriously as CTTS does on As the Roots Undo
The album starts with a plaintive whistle in a rain shower, and then abrubtly pounds into "Same Shade as Concrete." Wait...you didn't get the idea that this was some sort of organized indie or something, did you? Oh no. This is screamo, crazy ***ing screamo. The differences between this and the other screamo bands out there are many, though. It's obvious that each seemingly disorganized, dissonant chord combination and deconstructed, disheveled drumbeat are firmly and artfully orchestrated by the band. It's the most organized chaos I've ever heard. One never knows what's coming next, there is no linear pattern to the songs. It can be quite startling, and there's no doubt in my mind that CTTS wants it to be.
So anyway, "Same Shade as Concrete" thunders into the whistling with declarations of the beginning of the cycle. Drew's (vocals/guitar) shredded holler mixes with Kathy's (bass/vocals) heedless shout, "Rejoice, rejoice: a noble birth, a prince is born." Ah ha. The song meanders violently through caustic drums and throat-blistering recital of complexities until it abruptly stops on a poignant, clean-tone melody. Drew repeats quietly with Kathy chiming in prettily in the background, "Wade in the water child." Suddenly, Drew kicks the petal on his melody and starts to mutter "Let the flood swell." It builds, and builds, into a gorgeous assault of everything this three-piece can hit, strum, and scream, double bass drums prattling a tense undercurrent. Then it ends. So much for the beginning of the cycle.
The album continues with "Crowquill," which is one of the uglier tracks. Drew's vocals are especially gravelly, and the beat is much more persistent. The lyrics continue to be completely intelligible and overwhelmingly complicated. No verses, no chorus, just an oddyssey of philosophy. Pretty hefty stuff. Then comes the album's true turning point, and what appears to historically be the band's shining diamond. "The Nervous Light of Sunday" first showed on their demo and may have been the beginning of this entire concept album. Here, it's an apex. The track bleeds passion, twisting like an angry cat, shouting the most poignant one-liners yet, and coming back to the mantra "That's the thread that you curse, curse constantly." "An eternal patch on a quilt that hangs from a wall in a throw frought with our decay." Getting the picture yet?
If "Nervous Light of Sunday" is the top of the mountain, then it should be all downhill from there, right? Wrong. This album's release was delayed for about 6 months, and I've spent enough time with it to understand that the second part of the cycle is where CTTS really starts to rip. Musically, they begin to do and conceive of things that I've never heard before. Sometimes I think I'm listening to Spinal Tap. It's so complete in it's resolve that it seems comical. But it's that kind of music that makes you want to grow your hair out, put on a tour shirt, grab a lighter and go to a show to bang your head. "Interview at the Ruins" starts with a grinding noise of mortar and pestle, and after a short intro plods straight into a Sabbath style power chord riff. After a typical wild ride, it ends with a Druidic chant of the album's title, "A murmur from the ruins echoes softly as the roots undo, and the branch becomes." "A Non-Objective Portrait of Karma" comes next, and though I'm sure if fits perfectly into the album's thesis, it would be a bit of a disappointment if it weren't for the song's opening 6 minutes (heh, it clocks in at just under 7 minutes). Slight guitar volume effects and slow cymbals give way to a sorrowful, beautiful guitar. It builds like City of Caterpillar, for almost four minutes before reaching a feverish and truly incredible minute or two of absolute thrash metal. But it somehow manages to end with a choir singing monkishly in the background. As rapt as I am whenever I get to this point in the album, the theatrics of this are a little too thick for me.
As long as this review is getting, I had to save a lot of breath for "Kill the Switch." If "Nervous Light of Sunday" is the apex, this is the climax. The beginning is absolutely thunderous. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: Jay is one of the best drummers I have ever heard. His beats drive so powerfully and skillfully that there's no possibility that any song can fall apart, even with the tenuous thread that connects each segment. The first minute is more amazingly good thrash-like screamcore. Then, a short, gorgeously ambient interlude drenched with light from rose windows and stares from marble scultpures, which is ripped into confetti by their instruments. Another minute later (this track is nine and a half minutes), it slows to a lull again, Drew murmering, "Life is lowly anonymity, in death a noble pose, a Marat David. Tell me who wouldn't give their lives for such a soapbox to die behind. Life is lowly, lowly anonymity. In the space of a smile I found sleep." Another build ensues, increasingly quick with drums, intense with lyrics, until Drew kicks it again and they both begin to scream over a straight 4/4 beat. Then another chaotic, seemingly disorganized segment, centered around the shout of "Somewhere out there there's a thrill I swear!" This song, unlike most of the others, shows a circularity that is a microcosm of the whole album. Lyrical stanzas are repeated, riffs are returned to. Suddenly, brilliantly, one of these returns is given an undeniable double-bass drum undercurrent as they scream "I KNOW IT'S ALL BEEN DONE BEFORE I WANT TO DO IT AGAIN I WANT TO DO IT AGAIN!"
"Kill the Switch" alone is an epic journey. The album's last track, "A Crater to Cough In," is almost an eight minute afterthought, coming back to the plaintive whistle that started everything out, except this time it's played on Drew's guitar. I must admit that I rarely make it through this track, being so exhausted from the manic frenzy that is "Kill the Switch," but I'm sure it brings everything back to where it began. After all, CTTS's understanding of this "hunt" is that it's "cyclical and unending." My understanding of As the Roots Undo
is that it's never been done before, and I'm not sure that it'll ever be done on this scale again.