Circle II Circle_Reign Of DarknessCircle II Circle keeps chugging along, tirelessly offering a stripped-down, threadbare reminder of what Zak Stevens era Savatage sounded like – just in case those albums get raptured away or something. This is their seventh album of mid-tempo metal with hard rock and AOR influences, and though the blueprint delivered some good moments (Watching in Silence, Burden of Truth), the past few outings felt increasingly watered down and bereft of inspiration, culminating in the dissipated lethargy of 2013s Seasons Will Fall. Although Reign of Darkness still clings uncomfortably to the Edge of Thorns/Handful of Rain playbook at times, it’s a more in-your-face, aggressive batch of tunes with more urgency and sticking power. That’s definitely a positive, but there’s more to heavy metal song craft than simply dialing thing up to 7 or so and coasting.

After an intro that could’ve started any Savatage album from 1991 through 2001, they get down to business on lead “single” “Victim of the Night.” It’s pretty aggressive with heavy, chunky riffing alongside the expected keyboard noodles and Mr. Stevens’ mid-range, slightly raspy delivery is as manly and commanding as ever. The song is buoyed by some slick solo work and a decent chorus, but it feels safe, predictable and rote. “Untold Dreams” is better and sounds like a B-side from an Allen/Lande offering with that same kind of hard rock writing style and cheesy, radio-targeted chorus (but without the awe inspiring might of Jorn’s wondrous voice). Elsewhere, “Deep Within” allows Zak to stretch his range a bit on a fairly successful tune with the classic Savatage multi-tracked Choir of Stevens in the background providing support.

The rest of Reign of Darkness features more of the same, with some songs more successful and memorable like “It’s All Over” which benefits from a Testament-like stomping riff, and the easy breezy catchiness of “Somewhere.”  Neither of which will instill a compulsive need to replay in healthy people, but they aren’t bad. Less stellar are tunes like “Ghosts of the Devil” and “Sinister Love” where the band offers either forgettable and generic rock (the former) or painfully cheesy hair metal poppiness (the latter).

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Oddly enough, it’s the predictably maudlin power ballad “Solitary Rain” which offers the most replay value, despite a title that sounds like something Zoolander would play as he mugged and minced down the runway. It’s exactly the kind of song Stevens excels at, with a simple piano line accompanying his burly, yet vulnerable delivery (chicks love that kinda thing). Sure, it’s overwrought, overblown and silly, but hell man, it’s a power-ballad! If it doesn’t make you sing along with over exaggerated facial expressions and hand gestures, it isn’t doing its job. It’s especially fun at the 2:25 point where it goes full Savatage with all the bombastical cheddar that entails.

The biggest problem with Reign of Darkness is the impossible to miss mediocre nature of much of the material – like a cookie-cutter, vendor machine brand of hard rock/metal. Even the better songs are very by-the-book and most simply aren’t good enough to make you shrug off the fact you’ve heard this done before and done better. Add to that the inherently forced feeling many of the choruses have, as if they tried too hard to make them pop and stick, and you have a pretty serious writing problem.

That being said, Zak sounds great and does all he can to prop up the songs. Though he almost always stays in mid-range and rarely stretches himself, the classic hard rock sound of his voice is always a pleasure to hear. The band behind him is solid but nondescript aside from the guitar-work of Bill Hudson (ex-Power Quest, ex-Cellador) and Christian Wentz (Futures End). They uncork some pretty wild solos, but since the songs themselves are so pedestrian and safe, these don’t do much to move the ball down the field aside from providing a few moments of technical showmanship.

Though I still regularly spin Watching in Silence and Burden of Truth along with Steven’s Savatage era albums, I can’t seem to connect with much of the recent Circle II Circle output. This is superior to Seasons Will Fall, but it still isn’t what I’d call an essential listen. Consider it an inoffensive, easy-to-digest album – like a metal version of waiting room music, and you have the right idea. I want it to be better, but it isn’t.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: EarMUSIC
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: October 16, 2015

  • You wot m8?

    My god, the lyrics (at least in the embedded track) are just terrible. This is a higher level than even power metal cheese. This cheese has died, gone to the place where all the good cheeses go, and returned more powerful than you could have possibly imagined. The age of man is over, the time of the cheese has come…

    • I for one welcome our new cheese overlords.

      And did you up vote your own damn comment? For shame!

      • You wot m8?

        Bad touchscreen is bad, addressing said discrepancy now…

  • Pimpolho

    Why does the sentence ”With two spheres in the title, how can you go wrong?” exists on the homepage (where you can read the start of the review) but not here?

    • That’s the tagline. We use them as a pitch to get you to read, same of the Facebook blurbs. They aren’t part of the review itself.

      • Pimpolho

        Oh shit! How come i just realized this now? Thanks Dhrhuhm!

        • Some of our best material is in those taglines!

  • Rob Liz

    Good to know I’m not the only one to be dissatisfied with this band after the first two. Guess I’ll pass on this one as well.

  • BaboonKing

    Watching in Silence was great, but it had Jon Oliva involved in most of the writing, and it shows. The follow ups aren’t bad per se… just predictable and unexciting, lacking that special spark that Savatage (and the CIIC debut) had in spades.

    I gave a listen to some of the videos and teasers they’ve released for this last one, and sadly it is as you say, just another unremarkable album. :(

  • savafreak

    Agreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, only their first three albums were interesting and worth going back to again and again, delusions of grandeur had its moments but still it fell short of being distinguished, afterward came the generic uninspired lazy song writing which is a shame really for us wanting more Savatage as CIIC is the closest thing we can get to later days Savatage and Zach is still capable vocalist but his voice is wasted here in the midst of mediocrity. I think part of the problem is he keeps changing the band members and specially his guitarists, apparently non of his post burden of truth guitarists captured the magic of the first three albums!

  • Shangsean

    I haven’t listened to a full album from these guys since Watching in Silence, which I also don’t think was particularly great. It had a few good songs plus a lot of filler. The embedded track sounds okay, but like most of their stuff, it just has no personality. Global Warning by Jon Oliva’s Pain was great, but the final(?) Savatage and the Circle II Circle stuff even with Oliva involved are just flat.

  • JL

    Good review and I agree with the score. I listened to it once and then deleted it. Nothing attention-grabbing at all.

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    Great review! I love how Allen/Lande, and EarMusic are tags. The embedded track was a bit too much for my poor, young, virgin ears to stand, however. I think i’m gonna go sanctify my cranium with some ‘Sorni Nai’ by Kauan.

    How was THAT for a shameless plug? I’m expecting a review from someone this time!

  • robpal

    Listened to it once, nothing to memorable. Yet another OK heavy/prog album this year. On the other hand:
    New Gazpacho – just beautiful, easier then Demon
    New Caligula’s Horse – moody and great
    New Zierler – prog of the year

  • FutureBeyondSatan

    I find this album very good. I have never returned to Seasons Will Fall, so it is nice to se CIIC bounce back with this beauty.
    I think the repeated listens to Stryper contaminated Steel’s ear Druhms. I guess we can’t blame him for that!

  • Alper Memioglu

    Just listened to the album for the first time. Have to give a few more listens to be fair, but my first impression is that I agree with everything written in this review. It’s disappointing because this band had such a great start. “Watching in Silence” is an amazing album. Every album after had some good songs here and there; but for the most part, it’s been hit or miss with Circle II Circle. Zak needs to team up with better songwriters and go outside of his comfort zone.