Review Summary: Circus Maximus become faint-hearted.
Progressive rock probably isn't the first genre to come to mind when regarding Norwegian music. Instead, the Scandinavian country is known for housing a plethora of black metal bands, which makes a group like Circus Maximus strangely unique. The band's initial releases, The 1st Chapter
, laid a decidedly progressive metal foundation. Things got a little different in 2012, with Nine
presenting a softer, less abrasive side to the band's music. We began to see Circus Maximus tread the line between rock and metal, a direction which, unsurprisingly, drew mixed opinions from fans. It's important to keep this transition in mind when heading into Havoc
, an album that sheds nearly every trace of progressive metal left in the band's bloodstream.
We see metal groups move away from their initial genre and into others more often than we might admit; Anathema and Katatonia being two successful examples. Even so, leaning away from a heavier sound does tend to carry a sense of "are they selling out?" mentality when looking at a given band. What's most important, however, isn't necessarily the genre of music played, but the quality of music played. Havoc
will become a topic of contention for both points, especially with long-time fans. Gone are the strongly distorted guitars, aggressive leads and high dynamics, now replaced with music of a gentler nature, with barely a handful of truly ambitious moments. There's nothing inherently wrong with taking this approach, but when you risk alienating your fans this way, the material really needs to deliver on some level. Unfortunately, this is where Havoc
A more easygoing nature actually suits Circus Maximus, thanks to the added emphasis on Michael Erikson's vocals. He has a gentle, approachable tone when he sings, which may draw more vocal-minded listeners to the music. However, it's just as likely that even those same listeners will grow disinterested as they delve further into the album. Not only do the rest of the band play less technical material, but they play less material period. This is especially prevalent when you consider the vast majority of Havoc
seems to phone in the choruses and let those be what define the album. The music isn't nearly as layered as previous efforts, which you'd think would leave more room for individual members to stand out. Yet this opportunity is almost exclusively given to Erikson, with a handful of moments afforded to bassist Glen Cato Mollen. One could argue this gives the album a more subtle nature, one that requires repeat listens and careful examination to fully appreciate. A sound view, especially for a progressive band/album, but the problem with Havoc
is that it barely invites the listener to return. Whatever underlying touches the band may (or may not) have given the music is like to be lost on many listeners because there are barely any moments of intrigue.
hardly leaves a lasting impression. This isn't synonymous with being unenjoyable--it's entirely possible to like the album while listening. The point isn't that the album is bad (it isn't), it's just bland and uninspired. Other than the simple, catchy moments and one interesting track that calls back to the band's roots ("After the Fire"), Havoc
does little to keep listeners interested in the short term and even less in the long run, regardless of how familiar they are with the band.