Review Summary: Controversy and hyperbole be damned, Circle Takes the Square are back.
Think back to 2004 when Circle Takes the Square released their debut LP, As The Roots Undo. Think back to the hyperbolic claims surrounding the album, both positive and negative. Think back to how much controversy the album caused across the music-based interweb. Alright, now forget about all of that. Circle Takes the Square are back with their first release in seven years and they're an entirely different animal, a much darker, heavier, and more haunting one to say the least. Rites of Initiation showcases the band finding themselves in new terrain, and they're entirely comfortable with it.
In a press release, vocalist Drew Speziale stated that Rites of Initiation would be the darkest and heaviest release to date by Circle Takes the Square, and he certainly was not exaggerating. In Rites of Initiation, we find the band further exploring aspects of their craft that they only touched on in earlier releases. In "Interview At The Ruins," what Circle Takes the Square presented us with was slow, pacing guitar lines which led up to the chilling chant of "a murmur from the ruins that go softly as the roots undo, and the branch becomes.." Circle Takes the Square have taken the idea presented in that and choose to include it throughout Rites of Initiation as an ever-present motif, utilizing it throughout "Enter By the Narrow Gates" and allowing it to poke its head on many occasions throughout the album. By doing so, Speziale and co. craft a wall of cold, haunting vocal melodies, creating an atmosphere resembling that of a dark storm cloud.
Not only is Rites of Initiation darker (as Speziale said), but it is surely the heaviest thing they have ever written. Often, it seems to border on post-rock influenced metalcore (much like that of Trenches). Shifting between slow, chugging guitars and crashing cymbals to fast-picked wankery backed by blasting drums and angry, lower vocals than what we've become accustomed to from Circle Takes the Square, Rites of Initiation manifests itself as an entirely different animal indeed. Much of this is to be found in the tracks "Spirit Narrative" and "Way of Ever-Branching Paths," which seamlessly mesh together to create the most memorable piece of the album. By using these two approaches to their own controlled chaos, Circle Takes the Square allow Rites of Initiation to remain captivating, preventing themselves from dragging their own knuckles in the dirt.
With Rites of Initiation, Circle Takes the Square seem to be giving their all into creating exactly what their previous fans wanted, and exactly what all of the naysayers would expect from them. They may not be winning over very many new fans, but as a whole, Rites of Initiation is an excellent release. If this is a peek into what the rest of the Decomposition series will entail, then we are all in for one hell of a ride.