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Shadow Circus - Whispers And Screams CD (album) cover


Shadow Circus


Symphonic Prog

3.80 | 88 ratings

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Special Collaborator
Symphonic Team
4 stars Prepare thyself for heavenly headphone heaven.

Another great discovery for me this year on the Prog Archives, as far as I am concerned, Shadow Circus are one of the best Symphonic Prog acts I have had the pleasure to listen to. The new CD Whispers and Screams is choc a block full of innovative ideas and amazing virtuoso musicianship. Every track adds a new mood and feel enhancing the overall experience. The band are highly theatrical and emphasise the use of lengthy instrumentals to create incredible tracks. It sounds a bit like Diagonal at times, or Pink Floyd, ELP, early Genesis, Yes and Rush. You have to admire that front cover, a direct homage to Alfred Hitchcock's 'The Birds' complete with crows swarming in the screaming girl's hair.

The CD begins with the lengthy 7 part epic Project Blue.. Part 1 begins with a wind effect and a low drone with a soaring synth. Then a convoluted wild drum beat and jagged guitars crash in and a wall of sound is created. The Hammond blasts away as Bobick's clean vocals begin, phased out and aggressively psychedelic, very 70s like. Kind of like Peter Gabriel in early Genesis. Fontana's keyboards are masterfully executed, at times like the ELP Tarkus sound. Folta's drums pound incessantly, dramatic and complex rhythms. The metrical patterns are nerve shattering. The bass of Croft is relentless and intricate. The keyboard sol is admirable, it is little wonder Fontana has played onstage with the likes of Emerson and Wakeman; the influences are obvious. The lead guitar is terrific, lots of past picking and squeals. What an incredible opener.

Part 2 begins with minimalist piano, simple and beautiful and a quiet vocal that is very easy to understand: 'follow your dreams, to me they will lead you now, there's shadows in the fields, the dark man just won't yield'. Who is the dark man, what is the long road and what the heck is all this about? I have no idea but, similar to Yes, the obscurity of the lyrics enhances the overall mood and atmosphere.

In Part 3 The Big Fire, a warbling mellotron effect is heard and some good vocals from Bobick. It has a quieter feel in the intro but a great drum beat changes the mood which is somber and foreboding. It feels as though you might be walking under a hot sun in a desolate wasteland. The melody kicks in and is quite infectious. Multilayered vocals are effective. The time sig stops and changes throughout. This blends seamlessly into the next part.

Part 4 is a wonderful instrumental showcasing the talents of the band in full flight. A very off kilter time signature that moves from 7/8 to 4/4 and back to more changes. The drums are awesome here. The Hammond and guitar trade off, and I love that ELP feel the band have on this instrumental. Angular guitar riffing and screaming keyboard flourishes. Fontana is amazing, among the best keyboardists on the planet. The track ends with a crescendo that builds into an explosive climax. My highlight for the album. This blends seamlessly into Part 5.

Part 5 settles into a hushed lullaby, that is still dark but gentle in its approach. Mellotron pads and acoustic guitar. An Indian, Shakti or Eastern sound locks in, a George Harrison Eastern influence perhaps. 'What's this coming over me, I cannot move I cannot see, There's something that I just can't hide, alone here in the shadows of my pride' Bobick's vocals are effective as ever as he sings about a dark horseman. It does feel like a horse galloping, the way the rhythms cascade.

Part 6 is The Hand of God, another blistering instrumental. It begins with an ominous Blade Runner Vangelis style synth that echoes in the distance. The piano subtly introduces a new mood swing, it feels like night, the spacey guitar swoops over to prepare us for the onslaught. At about 2 mins in it begins: a heart stopping frenetic beat, drums pounding Hammond stabbing and angular guitar. One of the best tracks that highlights the virtuosity of the band. Its an all out prog jam, improvisational sounding yet tight and complex with heavy emphasis on lead breaks.

Part 7 is the closer to the epic and it simmers down into a more mainstream feel. The lyrics make more sense here: You had the weight of the new world, Restin' on your shoulders, What a way for it to be, But your face burns the memories deep into my mind, And the thought of you moves me on, Through sickness I crawled, By the light of the moon, But the shadow lent his hand, Through rain, sleet and snow he paved the way, And the thought of you moved me on.' Beautiful lyrics and an infectious melody end the epic. One of the best multimovement suites I have heard and worth the purchase price alone.

There is more to offer on other tracks though they never measure up to the opening epic. When the Morning Comes. is soft, balladic and only satisfactory due to the mayhem previously. The piano is beautiful.

Willoughby is a strange one. The title and lyrics remind me of the Twilight Zone episode 'A Stop at Willoughbys'. It begins quietly and I longed for more of the chaotic stuff of previous tracks. At 2:30 it delivers again, locking into a wonderful metronome swinging freak out. The time sigs are off the scale as the Hammond stabs with staccatos and percussive metrical patterns explode. A complex guitar solo ensues and is one of the best examples of Fontana's musical prowess. The fade ins that create the violin sounds are beautiful and atmospheric.

The last track is Angel, a song about a lady of the night: 'So she sold her soul unto the streets, Oh no, they burn right thru her feet, They cut you hard and make you bleed, So you can never, never leave, So take a number wait in line, Little John has paid for time, She wipes away the filth and grime, Back to do the same old grind, Angel with the dirty wings' ? yeah, you know what this about. The music is tranquil and melodic, a melancholy feel with lush soundscapes of percussion, bass, piano, mellotron and guitar. The lead break is once again exceptional. And this ends bookended with the rainstorm effect.

But there is one more instrumental to close it off and it is the brilliant Then In July The Thunder Came. This also has an Easterm Mystical feel with sliding guitars and mellotron. The drum beat is war like as though soldiers are marching into battle. The majestic atmosphere is enhanced by a lead guitar break that screams into the stratosphere. A very impressive album ends with an equally impressive closer.

The intricate musicianship and time sig changes are a progger's dreamchild and this band delivers in spades. It has all the makings of a 70s classic yet delivers something new in its approach. This is one of the most innovative albums in recent years, and although it is not flawless, this is definitely worthy of the 4 stars it is receiving from reviewers all over the net. I am pleasantly surprised at the amount of bands that are rising up and producing this unabashed style of prog that has everything that the 70s golden era of prog offered and beyond.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |


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