Authors of at least four dozen different full-lengths, EPs, live albums and singles, Finnish band Circle has spent much of the past decade and a half applying the same general principle to an ever increasing array of musical genres. Surprisingly, though they’ve danced around speed metal, hardcore, jazz, and general experimentalism with equal aplomb, each of their albums has managed the difficult task of embracing wholly new sounds while still being the unmistakable work of a group of (ever-rotating) weirdoes from Finland.
And so, albums like Miljard, Sunrise, and Panic have been seen not as ambient, metal, or punk albums in their own rights, but rather as Circle’s own distinct take on the ideas each of those movements have embodied, with core tenets bent and twisted around the band’s own love of rhythmic, Kraut-inspired repetition. Hollywood, Circle’s latest full-length to be released on their own Ektro label, presents a pretty massive deviation from that mold the band has so successfully created, due in large part to the presence of Jesters of Destiny vocalist Bruce Duff. Thus, what emerges over the course of this album is a push and pull between two disparate poles – Circle paying tribute to 1980s L.A. metal, and Circle backing up one of their lesser known heroes on a series of tracks that don’t quite sound at home in the band’s impressive discography.
Case in point – “Mercy and Tuesday,” itself a fairly solid song, but one that’s given over entirely to Duff’s ruminations on working, playing shows, and simply being a member of Jesters. That basic instrumental repetition is still present, but subverted, used merely as a backing for Duff. Even still, halfway through the track splits – the band finds a path through some uncharacteristically delicate guitar works and drives on home, seemingly forgetting about the voice that held court earlier on. Later on, the band gives in fully to Duff’s control on tracks like “Sacrifice” and the odd blues of “Hard to Realize,” so much so that the Circle we’ve come to know and love could be anywhere else but here.
Even still, the band manages to work its way back to the surface on Hollywood’s two closing tracks, finally finding that correct balance between Duff’s glammy howl and their own idiosyncratic take on power metal on both “Madman” and “Suddenly.” Strangely, in the absence of Duff, this probably would have been the strongest of Circle’s many recent full-lengths, as the high points here demonstrate a confident prowess that rank it among the groups finer moments. As it stands, even with the dominant vocals, Hollywood is still a pretty decent listen, albeit it one that will test your patience both for yet another Circle detour as well as its wanton embrace of the shameless throwback.