There’s no shortage of bands tunneling their way back to the past for inspiration. Magic Circle is among the pit crew delving deep into the 70s for influences, with their sound straddling the line between early Black Sabbath and rock royalty like Deep Purple. Featuring members of Sumerlands, Pagan Altar, and Doomriders, this is a bit of a super project, and on third album Departed Souls they do their best to defile all the right crypts of doom lore to arrive at something that smells fresh enough to wear about town without shame. What they’re managed to do is create a fairly hard rocking dose of occult doom with a bit of a biker rock edge and just a trace of hippie acid rock. That combination could never be bad for your health, right?
With the opener notes of the lead off title track you’ll be transported back to the days of flared jeans, high-heeled boots and mutton chops. This is fat, swinging Sabbath rock all day long, and it sounds like an escapee from Vol IV. That fuzzy, thick guitar tone beckons you like the siren’s call to dash yourself on the reefer madness, and when Brendan Radigan’s vocals arrive, it’s like Ozzy ascendant in a field of sweat leaf. If you have an upcoming drug test, you’d best check out, as mere contact with this stuff will cling to your DNA. It’s good fun, and easily digestible, though its been done to death at this point. Followup “I’ve Found My Way to Die” is even better, shaking and shimmying with authority, carried by burly riffs and a retro rock swagger. It’s part Black Sabbath, part Deep Purple with just a bit of The Obsessed, and it shows these chaps have the proper reverence for their forefathers. The Deep Purple worship completely overruns “Valley of the Lepers” as well, calling to mind their Machine Head era, but dialed up for more doom rock devastation.
Up to this point things are easy and breezy, and the riffs do much of the talking for the band. The attempt at a “Planet Caravan” style hippie trippy 60s acid rock song on “A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares” provides diversity to their approach, but it skews more Beatles than doom. It’s interesting, but feels underdone and underwhelming, with their yellow submarine never getting off the ground. The remainder of the album is a mixed bag. “Nightland’ is an exuberant number sounding like a proto-Iron Maiden trying to cover some unknown B-side off Sabbath‘s Never Say Die. It mostly works, but doesn’t quite stick. “Gone Again” is an off-kilter power ballad steeped in 60s blues and manages to impress, but closer “Hypnotized” falls a bit flat despite some interesting moments, thereby weakening the album’s overall impression.
At a trim 45 minutes, Departed Souls is a fairly quick ride, and the production by Andy Pearce is warm, rich, and extremely old school sounding1. I love the guitar tone and the drum sound, and the mix elevates the material. Sadly, despite some good songs, the material is too inconsistent and the writing never matches the band’s musical potential. The guitar-work by Chris Corry and Renato Montenegro is intentionally stuck in the past and quite effective at conjuring the sound of the 70s. The riffs are often quite pleasing, even when the songs themselves underwhelm. Brendan Radigan has a wild set of pipes and uses all his lung power, ranging from Ozzy-esque croons to Janice Joplin-like hoarse belting and Robert Plant-ish wailing. Sometimes though, his singing becomes more of a bane than a boon and he starts to irritate, as on “Hypnotized.” Less is more on this kind of music and he’s at his best when he limits himself to a dull, moody roar.
Magic Circle has plenty of raw talent, and when things coalesce they can craft a pretty sweet doom rocker, but Departed Souls feels too all over the place with too many missed opportunities for something greater. If you’re a fan of 70s style doom rock, take a flyer and give it a try, but approach with managed expectations.