Review Summary: An unexpected surprise from Klayton, which shows him at home in the Circle of Dust moniker just as much as he was in the 90's.
2016 has been an interesting year for Klayton. At the start of the year we were told that he had earned the rights back to his Circle of Dust material, and he was going to be remastering every album. This was something many long-time fans celebrated, but then on top of that, Klayton also announced he was going to be releasing new material. This was an interesting announcement, given how the name has been dormant for almost two decades and Celldweller wasn't exactly having issues. It also left a haze of skepticism - would this really be a return to the 90's industrial metal that made Circle of Dust so good, or was this going to follow in the vein of Celldweller, with the focus being more on electronics?
The opening (and title) track quickly puts those doubts to rest. Kicking in with a dense soundscape of electronics and samples, very reminiscent of early Circle of Dust material, it quickly gives way to some of the heaviest guitar work that Klayton has written in years; the last time I heard anything like this from Klayton was in 2012 on Wish Upon a Blackstar, and even then this was used fairly sparsely. The title track and following track "Contagion" are very reminiscent of the first two Circle of Dust albums, the latter song actually being featured as a bonus track on the remasterd version of "brainchild". Whereas recent Celldweller relases have usually seen the guitar work compensate the electronics, here the two work hand in hand to create a ferocious industrial metal sound that has the 1990's written all over it, and in the best way. The electronics are also very reminiscent of Circle of Dust material (see "Neophyte" and "Embracing Entropy"), and the drumming, whilst programmed (It's industrial metal, it's to be expected in all fairness), works well within the music and again adds to the nostalgic feel of this album. Instrumentally this album is very strong and is a nice little reminder of what was so enjoyable about a lot of this style of music.
However, this album does have its weak spots. Lyrics have never been Klayton's strongpoint, and whilst here they aren't as cringeworthy as some of his more recent Celldweller material, it still leaves a lot to be desired. Thankfully the instrumentation is usually enough to distract the listener from the lyrics but there are times when it becomes blatantly obvious. In addition, the second portion of this album feels somewhat less consistent than the first half, with songs like "Hive Mind" and "k-OS" being a little less memorable than the first half of the album. The final track, "Malacandra", does end the album well, however. Similar in nature to the title track from "Disengage", it is an eerie electronic instrumental which leaves a haunting feeling at the end.
All in all, though, this is a very good album and an unexpected surprise from Klayton. The Circle of Dust moniker works just as well here as it did 20 years ago and Klayton is just as comfortable with it now as he was then, if not moreso since he now has complete control over the music. This album is a nice montage to Klayton's past as well as 90's industrial metal in general, and whilst it may have its faults, it has a lot of memorable tracks on it, and is a fine addition to Klayton's catalogue.