The Circle – Metamorphosis Review

The phrase “avant-garde” spliced with “metal” is so confusing. Much like similar descriptors “extreme” and “modern,”1 it’s an extremely broad term that implies much and is much abused. Describing the Children of Bodom-esque Messora to the weird-as-shit Maudlin of the Well, overuse quickly becomes Inigo Montoya’s second most-famous quote: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” So, what does “avant-garde” actually mean? Beats me! Nevertheless, the newest crew to throw their avant-garde hat into the ring is Germany’s The Circle. Will Metamorphosis be the brilliant work of s’avants? Or will it make us put up our garde?

The Circle is a trio from Hamelin, Germany. Rattling off a series of tags ranging from post-black metal, melodic death metal, and art metal, while boasting ambiguous artwork and strange promo pics, it’s difficult to get a surefire answer from first glance for their first outing Metamorphosis. Melodrama is a clear priority, as influences of Swallow the Sun, Dimmu Borgir, Fleshgod Apocalypse, and Raintime are clear upon first listen: symphonic textures emphasizing mountainous doom- and death-influenced riffs, waves of blastbeats, and dichotomous vocals, while quirky melodies and shredding solos hop along for the ride. While arguably the poor man’s Iotunn, The Circle offers a tasty four-track bite-sized morsel of metal drama.

Metamorphosis, for being a self-released mini-album(?) debut,2 is remarkably well-written. Riffs in tracks like “Chapter IV: Salvation” and “Chapter III: Wrath” balance heft and shred impeccably, while vocals recall the hoarser power metal tone of Raintime‘s Claudio Coassin and impressive roars of Black Crown Initiate‘s James Dorton. Crushing doom rears its head in the Swallow the Sun-esque opener “Chapter I: Angst,” while eerie plucking and neoclassical Fleshgod Apocalypse Agony-era symphonic textures flavor the aptly melancholy “Chapter II: Despair.” While The Circle‘s influences feel like a multi-car pileup with multiple fatalities, there is an unmistakable emphasis on balance pervading every fiber. Bass lends its rumble periodically, the riffs feel sturdy but not overbearing, and the synths are certainly there without earning the label “symphonic.”

As Metamorphosis is the work of first-timers, and self-released first-timers especially, there are bound to be missteps. Perhaps most divisive about The Circle‘s offering is its comparison to this year’s (begrudgingly) excellent Iotunn. Both boast melodeath riffs and power metal-influenced vocals, but Access All Worlds is deservedly a contender for 2021’s AOTY, while Metamorphosis is a first dip into the scene. This is not necessarily the The Circle‘s fault as much as it is bad timing, but their debut furthermore suffers from a mix that blends its assets into a somewhat indiscernible muck. Clearer vocals, particularly cleans, would benefit the sound much more. This is also questionable when cringeworthy spoken word passages are clear as day in “Chapter I: Angst” and “Chapter II: Despair.” Bass only appears in quieter passages and the guitars can drown out the drums periodically. For black metal fans, only blastbeats and somewhat blackened barks exist to satisfy your kvlt kraving, but remain limited. Perhaps a nitpick, while each of the four tracks takes on a life of its own, Metamorphosis‘ concept of human reaction to tragedy is not reflected in its tone nor dynamic.

The Circle truly surprised me. Metamorphosis is a heavy, well-done, and overall, just plain fun debut from an act with a lot of potential. While certainly overshadowed by its influences and similar groups like Iotunn or Hamferð, and its mix not doing it any favors, it nonetheless offers crunchy riffs, striking vocals, and intriguing artistic flourishes that keep things fresh. I’m not entirely sure what makes it “avant-garde,”3 as influences of power metal, melodeath, death/doom, and touches of black metal all offer a voice. It has its moments of cringe and pompous bombast, but the meat and potatoes of its songwriting more than compensate for the sticky sugar of its more theatrical elements. Metamorphosis is not an earthmover, but you can expect a few rumbles nonetheless.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label:  Self-Released
Websites: thecirclemetal.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/thecircle.metal
Releases Worldwide: April 23rd, 2021

Show 3 footnotes

  1. *shudder*
  2. At twenty-eight minutes, I’m not sure if this counts as an LP or EP.
  3. Not that I’ve come any conclusion as to what that means anyway.
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