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Circle - Miljard

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Artist: Circle

Album: Miljard

Label: Ektro

Review date: Nov. 19, 2006

Over some twenty-odd records, Finnish overlords Circle have become known for their dedication to variants on Kraut hypnosis, riff-heavy metal hybrids, spaced out stoner vibing, and an occasional foray into grim folk-inflected ominous textures. Though they’ve branded themselves as forerunners of the New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal, their latest double-disc opus Miljard has nary a riff, vocal, nor drum beat upon which to hang that self-created moniker. While their past two releases have trafficked in a bizarre blend repetitive riffing that sounded like Judas Priest gone tantric, their latest album features a genteel type of sound more suited to pensive, rainy Sundays accompanied by a cup of tea and a book of Wordsworth poetry.

Think of this album then as their attempt to navigate the Touch aesthetic – minimal guitar lines that hint at mellifluous melody accompanied by staggered piano notes that are more on par with William Basinski works than Jesters of Destiny’s avant metal. “Parmalee” begins the set with a haunted 20 minutes – a piano beckons and fades into the distance, subtly delayed and effected guitars weave across the terrain, an understated low-end throb threatens to punctuate the calm but never truly does. “B.F.F.” mingles occasional drums with Satie-esque keys and wind-stroked guitars, while the lengthy “Duunila” traces faint echoes of Thuja’s more moody and sparse pieces, albeit with a crystal clarity that allows every single note the space to ring true, with the faint clamor of percussion and a growing icy drone closing out the track.

Offering only minor variations in the aesthetic established through the first disc, Miljard’s second half opens with graceful static and gauzy melody, all woozy keystrokes that paint “Sophie” in a harmoniously tempered grayscale. Punctuated gradually by ebbing drone figures and laconic guitars, the track gives itself over to sampled bell tones and barely caustic sounds that begin to suffuse the album’s lope with much darker stuff. Here the band approaches Philip Jeck’s hazy memoradelia, ultimately closing with “Viitane.” Mixing faint gamelan nods with a palpable dread, the album’s omnipresent pianos dot faint drum brushes, galloping clacks, bowed metal and rising static to bring an end to one of Circle’s more intriguing side-steps.

Circle’s complete and total willingness to wholly give themselves over to direction shifts has allowed their lengthy history to never once sound boring or tired. In that respect, Miljard is a staggering success, showcasing a band that can not only approach strangely alien textures, but make them their own. Coming hot on the heels of records like Forest and Tulikoira, which took respective stabs at Finn-folk and epic metal, Circle’s latest will undoubtedly sound like a bizarre detour into far more abstract terrain. Then again, that’s largely the album’s appeal. Verging more on gauzy improv and modern composition, the pieces collected here ditch any repetition for which the band has become known in favor of slowly evolving and completely moving moods. Those seeking towering riffs are advised to stick with Circle’s older material. But fans interested in knowing just how evolved this Finnish band’s world has become could do far worse than taking an evening to soak in the rising tide of tones and drones.

By Michael Crumsho

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