Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle Review

In the 2010 Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlburg movie, The Other Guys, we get a glimpse of what it’s like to be the unglamorous backup to the main act. Ferrell and Wahlburg play second fiddle to Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson’s badass, heroic cops; the hard-working foil to the flashy heroes, who get far less respect and attention than they deserve. I imagine, when not getting up to the usual metal shenanigans, that the creators of Mystic Circle can relate to The Other Guys. Formed way back in 1992, Mystic Circle has, in various iterations, released seven respected, if not adored, studio albums before calling it a day in 2007, having never reached the heights of some of their contemporaries. Strange bedfellows abound in both politics and metal, and original members Graf von Beelzebub and Aaarrrgon (who sounds like he would fit happily into Alestorm) have reunited to release an 8th studio album, entitled Mystic Circle. 15 years is a long time, so the question remains, is this the album to elevate their status to the big leagues?

Mystic Circle plays a solid brand of melodic black metal with bits of death metal thrown in. Think Dimmu Borgir or Mörk Gryning with the satanism really dialed up. The band is clearly aiming for a gritty combination of melodicism and aggression, best illustrated by opener, “Belial is My Name.” It jumps out immediately with energy and momentum, providing the right balance of melody and crushing force. There are other fun moments that illustrate a band that knows its way around a riff. “Letters from the Devil” has a fun rolling chorus, while “The Arrival of Baphomet” demonstrates the closest thing Mystic Circle has to serious hooks. Along with these, there are a number of fun moments throughout the collection.

The real problem with Mystic Circle is that these moments are diluted by the rest of the album, which sounds dated and bereft of any major new ideas. You’d think that 15 years apart would be enough time to create some interesting new material, but Mystic Circle sound like they’re still stuck in the late 90s, when playing deathened black metal alone was fairly novel. Apart from the aforementioned opener, Mystic Circle is generally impressive in its lack of memorability. Even the song titles are dated and dull: “Darkness in Flames,” “Satanic Mistress,” etc. etc. Too often, songs will coast on blast beats and basic, uninspired riffs, before shifting to a slower section, then a quick solo, and then a jog to the finish line. This fixed formula results in an album that gets stuck in a rut early from which it never emerges.

The performances are energetic and professional, and there’s a charming commitment to the older aesthetic. The drums pop, the guitars are suitably grimy, and there’s undeniable talent in all of the performances. There is impressive aggression, too. These guys are really going for it, and the fury, especially in songs like “Curse of the Wolf Demon” occasionally papers over the cracking material. But the aesthetic that’s created feels of a different time. Satanism in metal stopped being edgy 20 years ago, but Mystic Circle commit to it with such unironic seriousness, that it ultimately sounds even hokier than if they had their tongues in their cheeks. When Beelzebub chants, “I deny Jesus Christ!” it fails to land precisely because it’s so portentious.

I’m a sucker for happy reunions. But if you’re gonna resuscitate something that reached its sell-by date a decade and a half ago, there needs to be a good reason. Some fresh ideas. A renewed energy, perhaps. Maybe a change of direction. Mystic Circle have picked up exactly where they left off… but metal has moved on. The ideas they have are no longer novel, no matter how energetically and competently they are expressed. People seemed to like the hot chocolate metaphor of my previous review, so here goes: Mystic Circle is like a good quality bar of chocolate that was forgotten about, then found 15 years later despite no one really looking for it, and mixed with boiling water alone in the hope the sheer heat will distract from the stale taste and lack of body. This mixture, sadly, is not going to elevate them to Sam Jackson badass status anytime soon.

 


Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Atomic Fire Records
Websites: facebook.com/MysticCircleOfficial  |  music.atomicfire-records.com/mysticcircle
Releases Worldwide: February 4th, 2022

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