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Shadow Circus - Welcome to the Freakroom CD (album) cover

WELCOME TO THE FREAKROOM

Shadow Circus

Symphonic Prog


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bhikkhu
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Symphonic Prog Team
4 stars With Ludacris winning two Grammys, and American Idol bigger than ever, it's refreshing to see new artists choosing prog. Shadow Circus may not be the saviors of symphonic, but this is some very enjoyable music. It's not the most challenging the genre has to offer, but I find it quite infectious. They have seemed to capture a bit of the whimsy that the old masters used to employ, and other new bands tend to eschew.

The namesake track brings you right in, and sets you up, complete with a carnival barker. We've heard this type of thing before (think Nektar, "Down to Earth"), but these guys pull it off as well as anybody. You also get a nice bit of keyboard flourish to put the classic influence stamp on it.

"Storm Rider" is a cool romp, with some Latin rhythm from the piano. Heavy guitars continue to come in, reminding you that this is U.S. prog. Another interesting element is a bit of sitar in the background.

"Inconvenient Compromise" begins with a grand introduction, filled with all the complexity this band has to offer. It then settles into a jazzy, funk inspired, little groove. The refrain is more mainstream, but jazz is the rule through the main body. They then go into a mellower, spacey section. The ending is a burst from the intro, to make a nice bookend.

"Radio People" is probably the simplest thing on the album. It's a fun bit of social commentary, done in a light anthem style. This would be the single (if anyone was interested in prog singles these days).

"In the Wake of a Dancing Flame" begins with a psychedelic age inspired, soft organ intro. Piano and bass come in to fill it out, and then the ballad begins. It's nice enough, but becomes repetitive, and is the weakest track on the album. Don't get me wrong it's not really bad, just not up to par with the rest.

"Journey of Everyman" is the obligatory epic, in three movements. This one is chock full of intricate musicianship, changes, mood swings, and grandeur. Yes indeed, the things this old proghead is a sucker for. The band really gets to show what they are made of, and they don't disappoint.

Some may think that the vocals could be stronger, and that may be true. However, a more polished singer is not always the best way to go. I like Fish over Hogarth, prefer Steve Hackett to sing his own songs, and VDGG would not be the same without Peter Hammill's dulcet tones. I think a bit of the musical dynamic might be lost without David Bobick.

Overall, I like this very much. Would I have voted for this for best of 2006? No, but that doesn't mean I won't be listening to it. This is just good, fun, pleasing music, and isn't that what it's really all about?

H.T. Riekels

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Send comments to bhikkhu (BETA) | Report this review (#113401)
Posted Saturday, February 24, 2007 | Review Permalink
el böthy
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars "Step right up!"... and welcome to the freakroom...

New act Shadow Circus has just released their first full length album, a good album full of good old symphonic prog with a new and fresh sound, which keeps it from being old fashioned. But this band has something new to offer too... circus and theatrical influences? Well, yes, just as the name says it, there is a certain circus vibe; mostly due to David Lawrence Bobick vocals (Bobick has a degree in Musical Theater).

All songs, although not radically divers, present something different to the album. You got the opener "Shadow Circus", which sucks you right in the mood of the album with a great bass/drum work, good melodies from both guitar and keyboards (the keyboardist is only 17 years old!!!) and Bobick distinctive vocals; along with the final track, the best song of the album. A great way to open an album.

"Storm Rider" is a good follower to "Shadow Circus". It's more of a rocker than the previous track, with great piano and an awesome out of control guitar solo part around the fifth minute. After just one listen, the chorus is already in your head for good.

"Inconvenient Compromise" opens powerfully with full blown power chords and great keyboard riffs while the drums go absolutely mad and then... gentle piano drops in and Bobick´s catchy vocal melodies, specially in that great chorus. A stand out!

"Radio People" is where the band surrenders to their pop influences, which where present in the tracks before, but here it´s more evident. This even could be a Pet Shop Boys song! But don't be afraid, it's still a good song with (again) a very catchy chorus... impossible not to sing along. The lyrics are great too, full of criticism to the modern pop scene, with lines like "N´syncopation for the blind, K-Federation agonized" jajajaja...excellent!!!

"In the Wake of a Dancing Flame" is definitely the weakest song from the album. Here the catchiness that made the other songs so good becomes a bit dull after a while for it is too repetitive.

"Journey of Everyman" is the proggiest song of the album. An 11 minutes mini epic full of guitar solos, tight musicianship and song is even divided in three movements: "So it begins", "Find your Way" (the only one to have lyrics) and "Journey ends". The guitar and keyboard duels in "So it begins" might be the best demonstration from this musician's talent in the whole album. The rhythm section is great too, specially the drums; sadly the bass is a bit too low in the mix. The exquisite keys around the fourth minute will make any retro prog fan smile; this is how "Find your Way" begins. Bobick´s vocals drop in and surprise surprise!!! Melody after melody after melody all of which are terribly catchy, can this man not sing in a catchy way? "Journey ends" well...ends with a lush of keyboards which clime to a climax and... Gently drop. And the album ends... Great track!

A great first album for a band that will surely gain a quick following in this site, I know I already am one of those. Recommended to any Flower Kings, Spock Beard and specially The Tangent, you will not be led down by Shadow Circus.

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Send comments to el böthy (BETA) | Report this review (#113608)
Posted Monday, February 26, 2007 | Review Permalink
Blacksword
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars 'Welcome to the Freak Room' by Shadow Circus is an enjoyable listen. Listed here as 'Symphonic Prog' it is obvious that their music does celebrate the golden era of predominantly British prog, but there are also strong 'Art Rock' elements IMO. I can hear nods to the likes of Kansas, The Who and even Gentle Giant in the mix. All the musical ingredients are in place on this very worthwhile debut; charismatic vocals from David Bobick, and superb 'sit up and listen' lead guitar work courtesy of John Fontana. What also wins me over from the off is the piano. I admit a weakness to well played piano in progressive music!

The album opens with the title track, and sets a scene of playful but somewhat dark festivities to come. Strong melodies, and a fine vocal performance underpin this dark and quirky opening. This song perhaps leans more heavily towards the British side of Shadow Circus' influences, but what I like about this band is the way they comfortably juxtapose these Brit influences with their 'American-ness' After having soaked up the delights of Glass hammer for a while, I ended up thinking 'you're American folks. Remember that!' They seemed to have forgotten. All good prog celebrates where it comes from, IMO, no matter how many other influences are obvious in the music. Shadow Circus, thankfully seem to have realised this. The second track, 'Storm Rider' is more of an 'Art Rock' offering, with hints towards Kansas in the vocal melodies. 'Inconvenient Compromise' is currently my favourite track on the album. It's dramatic opening reminds of The Who, and soon dissolves into a Yes flavoured flurry of musical virtuosity. The mood changes thereafter, and Shadow Circus turn to blues and hard rock for the verses.

'Radio People' is irrestistable. A quirky and infectious track that grabs your attention immediately. It seems to combine elements of 80's synth pop, with Drama era Yes. It's straight forward rhythim, and eccentric electronic energy could, albeit in an edited form, make this a potent single to advertise this strong debut album.

'In the Wake of a Dancing Flame' has a majestic organ intro and a strong vocal part. Of all the songs on the album, this is probably one of the most acessable, thanks to both the vocal melody in the verses and the memorability of the chorus. The Kansas element comes into play here too, in the way that a very 'prog' intro works well in relation to what is really quite a radio friendly song. The instrumental middle section is brilliant, slow prog guitar - or is it keyboard - ambience takes over, before the song falls back into the chorus. A contender for my favourite track. I've been listening to this album for about five days now, and this track in particular does get better with each spin.

We end with the epic, or perhaps the mini epic. Clocking in at 11:40, 'Journey of Everyman' has all the vital conponants of a prog classic, but for me leaves me wanting more in some areas. The intro moves through a series of changes and moods, which in isolation of each other are all very good, but sitting side by side something doesn't seem to flow as well as it could. It's a continuity issue for me, which for someone elses ears may not be an issue. At 5:09 the song changes mood again beautifully before the first verse starts, and when it does the issues of 'flow' are resolved swiftly. 'Journey of Everyman' is a heartfelt and powerfull song from thereon. At 8:48 the pace picks up with a great organ riff, which proceeds some more impressive lead guitar work which leads into the outro at 10:40, complete with a melodic lead guitar line and a powerful Mellotron-esque choral backing, which left me thinking that it needed to continue for another 3 minutes or so, and build up even more.

Shadow Circus may not break through any boundaries of innovation as such, but what they do they do very well indeed. They are great musicians, they are blessed with a charismatic singer, and the sincerity of their love for classic music shines through in their writing and their playing. These days I'd rather hear prog bands doing something completly different to what has gone before, even if it's like finger nails on a chalkboard at times. When bands merely celebrate the past it can be tedious and predictable. Shadow Circus, put enough of their own stamp on the classic formulas to avoid falling into that category. In terms of star ratings, 3 stars may seem a little tight fisted on my part, but I dont like the term 'not essential' Parting with money for this album would not be a mistake. It's a good solid debut album, and I think they will continue to develop impressively from this day on. I wish them all the best, and hopefully they will bring their dark circus to my shores one day and I'll have the chance to see them live.

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Send comments to Blacksword (BETA) | Report this review (#114106)
Posted Saturday, March 03, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars "The wails of a lifetime were gathered in it (the train's whistle) from other nights in other slumbering years; the howl of moon-dreamed dogs, the seep of river-cold winds through January porch screens which stopped the blood, a thousand fire sirens weeping, or worse! the outgone shreds of breath, the protests of a billion people dead or dying, not wanting to be dead, their groans, their sighs, burst over the earth!" "Something Wicked This Way Comes" by Ray Bradbury

The Shadow Circus has come to town. And on repeated listens to "Welcome To The Freakroom", an astonishing accomplishment seldom found or given attention in modern music is revealed: this is a work that has been crafted with precision and care, and performed dynamically, in deference to an emotionally charged (and potentially melodramatic) psychological journey, developed across the narrative scenarios of the six songs comprising this "album" through the aesthetic language of multiple artistic mediums. Musically, there are no flourishes out of place, nor is instrumental upstaging present. Instead we are treated to the incremental repetition of sonic themes introduced and developed in, at one moment, a painterly way, and then quite suddenly transformed into film score. The performances are assured and confident and exciting in bringing to life the whimsy and the grave, the elegy and the elation, the urban and the pastoral sonic canvases and palettes presented here. Lyrically, though not a "concept" album in prog's purest sense, a story is told through the unique, and quite impressive, use of theatrical dialogue technique: we come to know the singer/narrator intimately as each song is written and performed individually as monologue, soliloquy, direct conversation . and even spiritual audience with ego and id! In narrative construction it is literary, and reminds one of Sherwood Anderson's "Winesburg, Ohio", in that we witness the development of a character through individual scenarios designed to highlight particular momentous revelations in the life of that character and thereby, in the end, form a cohesive whole from which we can come away with the experiences of another's life epiphanies and, hopefully, gain perspective on our own. With this in mind, and since this is not a work designed for and presented by the written word or stage, I must turn to another medium to further focus my impression of this debut; the great Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky, when asked to describe his visionary body of work replied that he was "sculpting in time". Yes, I believe that this is the most accurate. This is sculpting in time. This is Shadow Circus.

It would be a colossal disservice for me to front this album as merely a cerebral exercise - hell no! "Welcome To The Freakroom" is a blast to listen to, and contains a treasure trove of classic 70's rock and prog rock musical references: from the stadium bombast of Queen, to the organ pumping drive of Deep Purple, to the plaintive wail of a David Gilmour solo, to the keyboard flourishes of ELP, to the idiosyncratic attack of Tull, to the urban angst assault of The Who, to the depths of the earth rythmn section momentum of Led Zeppelin . hell, there's even a sequence that marries the opening revelatory opus of Rush's "Xanadu" to the bluesy approach of "The Fountains of Lamneth"! Okay? If you have been searching for a new band that has all of the qualities - and the sound - of why you fell in love with progressive rock music, then look no further. "Welcome To The Freakroom" is a wonder of a debut by five accomplished, experienced and, as immediately apparent here, serious musicians: John Foltana, David Lawrence Bobick, Corey Folta, Matt Masek, and Zach Tenorio have all given notice and staked a claim as a band of substantial merit . and as one to watch. This is the real deal, folks. Come on in for the ride of your life.

Rating 3.8 due to production values alone (couldn't just give it a 3.5) - this is more than "Good", and should be a welcomed addition to any collection ... a very promising debut of an interesting and unique vision.

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Send comments to rustedsynapse (BETA) | Report this review (#114897)
Posted Monday, March 12, 2007 | Review Permalink
Atkingani
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars In recent times I've been more and more investigating very new prog-rock bands. The future of my (our) favorite musical style concerns me a lot, I really don't want to see the genre falling into oblivion due to the lack of new blood, just like happened with other fine styles like tango or bossa-nova. Apparently, for what I researched prog-rock closest future is guaranteed since new artists are emerging everywhere and all the time and the best thing is that not only quantity is observed but mainly quality.

Following this line, I took recently contact with this fine new symphonic band, SHADOW CIRCUS, and their debut album "Welcome To The Freakroom", an intriguing and bold production, indeed. SHADOW CIRCUS' sound is a plethora of much that we've heard in the 70s conspicuously blended with the newest trends in the prog planet and the result is really pleasant, I'd say enjoyable, magical and sometimes dark, well in the vein of the purest progressive acts.

Band members show an intrepid musicianship, making us think of forthcoming albums where they shall certainly go far beyond. OK, they haven't yet their own style, but a trail may be perceived. Singing work is where the mentioned trail probably begins; vocalist has his own pattern, exquisite, different, combining an ironic manner in a kind of British mood with a well discernible American accent - I simply adore when I can catch the lyrics in a first passage (remember that English isn't my first language). As an attached note I must say that production is almost flawless and this contributes for an increasing listening interest.

Band namesake song, "Shadow Circus" is a great album opener; the initial shout calling us to the show and making us dive deeply in a sort of strange dream where keyboards and guitars sound hard and raw doing the backing for vocals irrigated with pure emotion. There's something theatrical that picks up the hearer almost immediately - listening to this song with eyes closed I could see 30 years of prog- rock passing through my mind; that's the reason I simply don't run away and hide, I let the Shadow Circus by..

"Storm rider" is the fusionest and jazziest song in the album and consequently the most 'American' track here - great piano and drumming working, fine singing action. I swear I could even dance here: the song is agreeable, in the correct mood.

"Inconvenient compromise" is really modern, here and there we may gather the influences of many progressive bands of the 90s, all mixed to fit into band's reality. Some passages are truly beautiful and don't forget to pay attention to the guitar solo.

"Radio people" has that catchy neo-prog sound that may annoy some delicate ears but, hey, these guys have heard this stuff certainly too much and they are telling their story and they deserve to be heard. Not the highest album point but doubtless well above the average.

"In the wake of a dancing flame" brings the band to some of their proggiest moments, meaning that some marvelous tunes are presented. The overall atmosphere is pleasant and lovable, a bit psychedelic; the apparent balladesque path is tricky, and the song reveals meaningful points when you read between the lines. This track rivals with the opener for the honor of being album's best.

'Journey of everyman' must be evaluated separately from the others. We are facing a epic-like song and here SHADOW CIRCUS walk through dangerous fields doing a kind of summary of the entire prog-rock genre - parts of the song could easily be recorded by many of our dearest bands. Anyway, the treatment given by the band is sincere and respectful.

OK, now that your prog collection is already full of those unforgettable albums produced by those classic bands it's time to add something new and "Welcome To The Freakdown" is a neat and nice recommendation - just take it! Final rating: 4.

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Send comments to Atkingani (BETA) | Report this review (#115453)
Posted Saturday, March 17, 2007 | Review Permalink
E-Dub
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Nice debut by American symph prg rockers, Shadow Circus. It's one thing to discover an up and coming prog band, be a bit fascinated by it, but you know in the back of your mind that you won't venture past a disc or two. It's a completely different thing when you're so taken by a disc by an unknown band and know that you are on to something special. You can't wait for the next album!

The disc launches from the gate with swirling keyboards and a soaring intro with the band's namesake song. Excellent solo by guitarist John Fontana about 5 minutes in that reminds me a lot of Tom Scholz of the band Boston. Nice little blend of quirkiness by vocalist David Lawrence Bobick.

One of my favorite tracks is the second entitled "Storm Rider". Starts off with a Kansas feel with nice piano adding a bit of a Springsteen-ish/Roy Bittan quality to it. Again, a true highlight is John's guitar solo about halfway through that blends into a nice harmonious marriage with the synths.

"Inconvenient Compromise" starts off with a sound like Rush's "Dreamline" from Roll The Bones briefly, but suddenly changes moods with a beautiful piano interlude. Very nice how the songs takes on a schyzophrenic personality that's a bit manic, but then takes off with some very nice melodies. Just amazing arrangement on this particular song with about a minute and a half to go--this band really shows of their chops on this tune.

"Radio People" starts off with an almost 80's hair metal anthem, but don't let that turn you off (if 80's hair metal isn't your thing). At about 5 1/2 minutes long, it's a bit tongue-in-cheek and lighthearted, while at the same being a social commentary. Actually makes for a nice break while venturing through the Freakroom--you can't help but tap your feet to this one.

"In The Wake Of A Dancing Flame" rolls in with a nice drum pattern reminiscent of Cozy Powell, accompanied with a nice Hammond Organ; although, the vocals could be delivered in a different way and doesn't quite hold up to the powerful music. What strikes me on this song and on the others is the beautiful piano underlining the music. I hate to use the same Roy Bittan comparison, but both keyboardists create an almost carnival-like atmosphere with their swirling pianos. It's one reason why I appreciate Springsteen's music, and now Shadow Circus. You put this together with an almost sitar esque solo by Fontana, the song simply takes you to another state. Absolutely sublime!

We start to exit the Freakroom with the mini epic, "Journey Of Everyman" to more exquisite piano rising above beautiful orchestration. Until a Van Halen's 1984-like synth catapults us into the stratosphere with a solo that sounds like something right off of a Boston album circa 1977. Once the storm passes, however, the intro slows down to a calming pace. The song suddenly picks up, slows down, but lurches forward again in a manic pace of flying drumsticks and whirling guitars. This band knows how to tell a story with music in a way that's not unlike Transatlantic. It's defintely one of my favorites from the Freakroom.

Shadow Circus and The Puppet Show have been two very positive discoveries in 2007 so far. If I did have one complaint, I only wished they had longer epics that clocked way past the longest track at 11 minutes, 46 seconds (me being the epic junkie that I am). Still, it doesn't detract from a VERY strong debut by a band for whom will be around for a long time to come. 4 very strong stars!

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Send comments to E-Dub (BETA) | Report this review (#121433)
Posted Wednesday, May 09, 2007 | Review Permalink
Ivan_Melgar_M
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Symphonic Prog Specialist
4 stars When somebody has listened the best Prog bands for almost three decades and believes there's no more chance for new great bands, it's refreshing to find guys like the members of "SHADOW CIRCUS" who are still insisting with the genre and releasing a very solid album, specially in this days where Rap, Hip Hop and easy music seem to be the constant..

"SHADOW CIRCUS" was founded by John Fontana (guitar), who after 15 years of musical activity in NYC decided to re-create some Prog based in the golden era of Symphonic and prepare a demo to send as part of his resume, but his ex band-mate the drummer Corey Folta herd the music encouraged John to form a band, with the help of the vocalist David Bobick who wrote the lyrics, with the addition of the former Cello player and now bassist Matt Masek and Zac Tenorio in the keyboards, a band was born.

Their debut album "Welcome to the Freakroom" opens with "SHADOW CIRCUS", a song that gets the listener in the mood with a typical circus tune that starts to decrease in intensity while a mellotron goes in crescendo introducing to a keyboard explosion that reminds me of Clive Nolan, and directly links to the rhythmic vocals. A well developed song that serves not only as an introduction to the album but also for the band because they manage never to a sarcastic sense of humor, excellent opener.

"Storm Rider" starts with strong keyboards and drums soon followed by the band, the vocals are a bit odd for an average Prog band, but suit perfectly with the music. Fast and vibrant song with radical changes and an amazing piano and of course as you will expect in a USA band, very strong guitars.

Now it's time for pompous intros in "Inconvenient Compromise" the band hits us with everything they have but then have a radical change to section that reminds me of Yes from the Going for the One era, but before we get used another change leads us to a softer and melodic territory, just to change again into a Hard Rock section leaded by Bobik vocals, th9is is what Prog is about, constant changes without ever loosing control and "SHADOW CIRCUS" gives us everything, wont tell about the finale to avoid ruining the experience..brilliant.

Every album needs a hook, a moiré catchy song and "Radio People" provides it, the organ sounds almost Psychedelic but despite some excesses (Which I love) we find and interesting Hard Rock track. Not as complex as the previous but still very good, and the arrangements are perfect.

"In the Wake of a Dancing Flame" starts with an organ solo followed by acoustic guitar and drums that work as an intro for an interesting Power Ballad with a very Psyche oriented sound, the keyboards sounds as coming directly from the late 60's and there's an oriental favor very typical of that era and a guitar work that matches perfectly, very nice track, a bit repetitive though, if I had to chose the weakest track .would have to point my finger towards "In the Wake of a Dancing Flame", but still is a very good song, so we are before a band with high standards.

The last track "Journey of Everyman" is a three part epic inspired in the novel "The Talisman". It's fair to say they reserved the best for the end, starts with a nice piano solo until the band explodes with a guitar and keyboard section in the limits of Symphonic and Hard Rock, then you can expect anything, moogs, mellotrons, cellos, well everything that makes Prog so great, the changes are always dramatic but the band never loose the continuity, it's hard to describe everything that happens in more than 11 minutes, but I'm sure this track will satisfy the most demanding Progheads.

It's hard to rate this album with a cold system of stars because they are extremely good and I believe it's essential for any Proghead interested in modern Symphonic to get this album, but at the same time I believe doesn't reach the status of masterpiece /stays very close) and also I am sure they can release an even better album, so this time I will be careful and give 4 very solid stars to the excellent "Welcome to the Freakroom".

I'm confident that if they continue evolving, very soon I will be rating a second album of "SHADOW CIRCUS" with 5 stars.

Note: Have to thank ffroyd from Progressive Ears who kindly sent me the album to review it on their site.

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Send comments to Ivan_Melgar_M (BETA) | Report this review (#129343)
Posted Friday, July 20, 2007 | Review Permalink
erik neuteboom
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars This new USA five piece band has made an interesting debut CD but I have to admit that it required a few listening sessions to get into their music. Shadow Circus sounds way from mainstream symphonic prog and the singer has a very distinctive voice, not always my cup of tea because of the theatrical undertone at some moments. But his voice is powerful and gives the sound of Shadow Music an extra dimension.

1. Shadow Circus (7:25) : The bands starts dynamic and powerful with propulsive guitar riffs and a wonderful colouring with vintage keyboard sounds (choir-Mellotron, Minimoog, Hammond organ and Grand piano). The music is melodic, it is a genuine circus atmosphere and the vocals are strong, halfway we can enjoy a biting electric guitar solo, a good and promising start!

2. Storm Rider (7:49) : A catchy mid-tempo with a captivating tension between the fiery electric guitar play and the swinging piano (it contains a Latin-American undertone). In the second part a fiery guitar solo is accompanied by lush Hammond organ and then fluent synthesizer flights, very exciting!

3. Inconvenient Compromise (5:58) : Lots of shifting moods (from mellow with sensitive electric guitar to bombastic with Hammond organ), excellent drum work and varied keyboards (including a swinging piano solo).

4. Radio People (5:43) : This is the maverick on the album delivering a catchy beat and lots of interesting musical ideas like the flute-Mellotron and a sitar-like sound and choir-Mellotron blended with a biting wah-wah guitar solo. It sounds like 'pop meets neo- prog' but this song has been worked out very well.

5. In the Wake of a Dancing Flame (6:34) : The long intro contains wonderful Hammond organ play, it reminds me of early Seventies bands like Rare Bird and Julian's Treatment. Despite good work on guitar and keyboards and strong vocals, this track lacks a bit direction.

6. Journey of Everyman (11:46) : This alternating and dynamic final composition is the absolute highlight on this album, what a 'Pandora's Box of musical surprises', from a blend of wonderful classical orchestrations and Grand piano to bombastic keyboards, a powerful rhythm-section and fiery electric guitar runs, from a slow rhythm with a sensitive electric guitar solo to choir-Mellotron waves with tender piano and from acoustic rhythm guitar with vocals to an almost psychedelic part with a long, biting wah-wah guitar solo, accompanied by majestic choir-Mellotron and an adventurous rhythm-section, this is Shadow Circus at its best!

The music of this new and promising band is hard to pigeon-hole (I could only notice some short but obvious early Yes echoes in the final track) but it's worth to discover their unique sound, I am glad that Atkingani and E-Dub recommended Shadow Circus to me, thanks! I am looking forward to their next release, until so far a solid 3,5 stars for their debut CD but I expect to give 4 stars to the successor!

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Send comments to erik neuteboom (BETA) | Report this review (#132157)
Posted Tuesday, August 07, 2007 | Review Permalink
The T
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars It's good to see new symphonic-rock bands emerge in a time when most progressive-rock fans tend to disregard everything that sounds retro as "derivative" and everything that sounds new as "unique", even though good-and-bad-quality music can be found in either of them.

Many experts on this genre have already spoken. I'll just limit myself to mention my impressions of the record. SHADOW CIRCUS' debut is a really enjoyable, if somewhat flat, experience.

As it has been said before, the music this band play in "Welcome to the Freakroom" is hardly groundbreaking, but it's very well-crafted. The style has more to do, in my view, with classical American hard-progressive-rock a la KANSAS more than with traditional symphonic rock. Instead of that typical "Brit" sound of most neo-prog bands, SHADOW CIRCUS show their roots as an Americana band, with many references to traditional genres, including some sections that sound almost like country music ("In the Wake of a Dancing Flame" probably being the best example of this.)

The structures in the songs are quite straightforward, and there's little of the thematic development or the extended soloing that one usually hears in traditional symphonic rock bands. But, at the same time, the songs are longer than average, feature more instrumental sections than in typical rock, and we have a multi-sectioned semi-epic at the end of the album. The keyboards are very important in this band's sound, as are the guitars.

The musicianship is good if never stellar. The guitars and keys are well-played, the drums are simple yet effective, the bass is very interesting, The vocals are a mixed-bag: at times charming and even brilliant, at times weak. They remind me of Walsh, sometimes of singers like STP's Weiland.

The melodies are OK, nothing extraordinaire. The best song in the album may well be the opener, "Shadow Circus". "Radio People" seems like their shot at popularity, but the chorus is slightly annoying. "Journey of Everyman", their collage at the end, starts in excellent fashion with a very atmospheric instrumental intro, but then, when the second section arrives, it seems like glued-on artificially. It doesn't sound like a true epic but like three independent sections that the band had written and that needed to go in the album. It's a mixed success.

In the end, "Welcome to The Freakroom" is a very pleasant debut by SHADOW CIRCUS. The band is still far from being a big contender for today's best symphonic bands (THE TANGENT, THE FLOWER KINGS, among many others), but it shows promise, and deserves 3 stars.

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Send comments to The T (BETA) | Report this review (#176103)
Posted Friday, July 04, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Ladies, and gentleman, children of all ages ........... welcome to the Freakroom!

Spacious keyboard / guitar texturizing, vocal harmonizations and frequent changes in musical dynamics create walls of sound that recapture the glory days of conceptual art-rock of the early seventies on New York City's Shadow Circus' debut album, Welcome To The Freakroom. A ringmaster ( aka Dave Bobick ) with megaphone in hand ushers the audience into a surreal dreamlike grey area called the Freakroom where they are separated from reality and introduced to a microcosm of their inner sanctums, from decadent obsessions and dependences on technology, to the everyday strife of a crumbling modern world but at the same time offering hope and solace in the end for those who take heed to the ringmaster's forewarnings.

A contemptuously benign overall setting (at times quirky for maximum metaphorical circus effect ) is provided by John Fontana's David Gilmour/Alex Lifeson inspired guitar work along with multiple layerings and grooves by the masterful Zack Tenorio on keyboards ( it's hard to believe that he was only 17 when this disc was recorded in June 07 ! ). Through all the pyrotechnics and flowing electricity the flamboyance of frontman Dave Bobick who was trained in musical theatre emerges. Backed by a solid rhythm section of multi-instumentalist Matt Masek on bass ( who also doubles on cello and 12 string acoustic guitar ) and Corey Folta on drums a solid foundation anchors a bright, thriving aura which is maintained throughout this bizarre musical experience.

Despite the radiance in the music, and there's no doubt these guys are having a blast, there's an ominous message here for us as humans, that it is imperative that we put on the brakes or we will be turned into vegetables by our complacencies in this modern, ferocious world where technological advance seems to be more important than our psychological well being which is literally eating us alive. While this seems to be reading too much into the disc the strongest suggestion of this in the work occurs on the deliberately catchy prog-pop Radio People which rocks it out with devious cynicism with references to how we are programmed by a technological world whose impetus we can't keep up with. A ballad, in The Wake Of A Dancing Flame, urges the audience to conquer their pasts and that there is indeed some salvation out there. Another upbeat piece, which is distantly reminicient of some of the material off Meat Loaf's first Bat Out Of Hell album, structured around another catchy main riff played by the piano, Storm Rider, deals with these pasts and features Fontana's guitar as well. It's also preceded by another similarily themed track entitled Inconvenient Compromise which has plenty of changes and keyboards galore that also really rock it out at times. The 3 part epic blowout track, Journey Of Everyman with swirling keyboards and frantic guitars is full of suprises without getting too melodramatic. It is by far the most ambitious,symphonic and moody piece on the album and is placed approprietely at the conclusion of the disc, it returns briefly to the original theme in the opening track and attempts to resolve and make sense of all the madness by imploring the audience not to fear and to put on a brave face upon exiting the temporary rational sanctuary of the freak room.

Musically impressive, Shadow Circus doesn't approach the intimidating instrumental virtuosity of Gentle Giant, the lyrical confusion of Genesis or the compositional complexities of Yes, but nevertheles re- assures us that the spirit of old school art-rock is once again upon us and very alive. There is a certain light hearted magic here that is not present in other contemporary neo-progressive bands' music that just seem to miss the point in some essential way. Shadow Circus demonstrate here that progressive music need not be serious all of the time . Welcome To The Freakroom has to be one of the most gratfying recent neo-progressive rock albums that breathes new fangled life into the present without forgetting the traditional past.

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Send comments to Vibrationbaby (BETA) | Report this review (#184842)
Posted Monday, October 06, 2008 | Review Permalink
Queen By-Tor
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars What would happen if Neal Morse decided to join the circus instead of the church?

It would appear that the American progressive rock scene is growing at an alarming rate, and it's produced some darn good bands. Shadow Circus is a new contender to the scene of ''retro-symphonic'' bands that have emerged recently, and they're off to a very good start with this, their debut album. What's a little bit strange to note about progressive rock is that it seems like back in the 70s the Americas (the bands, anyways) wanted nothing to do with the lush and pomp groups such as Yes and ELP that were coming out at the time and sometime in the mid-90s we've flipped positions. Indeed, what we have here is a lush symphonic band who are hard on the keyboard, well into the ''traditional'' progressive structure and even not afraid to flex their compositional muscles when it comes to more lengthy tracks. The quickest comparison that comes to mind when it comes to finding a parallel with this band is somewhat of a Spock's Beard-like band, only with a twist.

As you can imagine from the name and the cover art, this music has a touch of darkness to it, and a little bit of zaniness. This is notable right off the top of the album with the 'band-name-track', Shadow Circus which dares to bring circus music into the foray of prog, if even for a couple of brief moments. Some excellent rhythm sections drive this track, which does well to introduce the somewhat quirky vocal styling of David Lawrence Bobick. A somewhat rare breed of symphonic prog singers in that he uses a lower voice that has a lot of personality to it - and it's very well suited for the music that the band is going for. While people may be wondering if his voice can hold up outside the realm of the so called 'circus prog' as the first song comes to a close it becomes pretty clear that he's going to be able to do a good job throughout as Storm Rider begins. A soft piano soon bursts into full motion with a song that's somewhat light at heart but still highly effective. This is definitely one of the highlights of the album thanks to its many layers and complexities. The guitar really drives the track but the pianos and keyboards will not be outdone as they battle their way through the track.

Where the band really excels is where they add in a touch of their more pop influences to make the songs highly memorable, and yet still complex enough for even the most elitist progger. Two songs that demonstrate this are the very middle two songs on the album. Inconvenient Compromise is probably the thickest song on the album with its big build into the organs and piano. There's a subtle chorus in the song, but this one is definitely the hardest to remember when you're looking at the track listing thinking ''how did that one go again?''. It's definitely a grower, but it might take a good number before it really gets under your skin - but that's what good prog does, right? Easily the poppiest song on the album is one that many proggers will have a love/hate relationship with - the incredibly bouncy and upbeat Radio People is the song that will beat you over the head with a 2x4 the first time you listen to it and for the rest of the day you'll be cursing the band because the incredibly catchy chorus will be ringing through there on repeat. The song does seem a touch out of place just based on how upbeat it is, but you'll soon find youself forgiving it because it's just so darned lovable.

The two final songs on the album really make good use of being heady and being accessible at the same time. In The Wake Of A Dancing Flame is the most lo-key song on the album, but being careful to call it 'slow'. Its lead by a powerful organ and emotional vocals that make the chorus almost tear-jerking at points. There's even a bagpipe solo in there (and don't let the notion of it scare you!) which is placed so well that it's just beautiful! For many people who have only seen this instrument used well in funeral services it can be quite the experience to hear it in this song, especially near the lines, ''you're an angel and you finally got you wings''.

And then we come to the album's lengthiest track, and no doubt the one of highest expectations. Journey Of Everyman is a very well thought out track, which goes through multiple parts before reaching its ultimate conclusion. Likely the standout point of this track is the wonderful piano work on the opening segment, although the rest of the tune plays out nicely as well with some highly impressive guitar solos from Fontana and thumbs up playing from the rest of the members. While the ending isn't quite as 'grand' as many other epics have ended you really don't miss the 'over the top' ending in this tune because that would just be predictable - and the album reaches a suiting end.

In terms of production this album certainly sounds crisp and clean, everyone really knew what they were doing. The band is a little more on the 'light' side than the 'dark' side of things, even if they do have one foot poking around over there - the keyboards do tend to dominate over the guitars at many points and the guitars are very crisp, even if at some points the audience just wants to hear a crunching riff, or something along those lines. The opening song sets up for a very twisted ride and while there are twists along the way they never really get as dark as the opening track would have you believe. Still, that's just nit-picking because this is a very good album and an excellent way to get started.

With room to grow and an album that gets a recommendation and a thumbs up, Shadow Circus promises to be a band to watch. They've even got a new cd coming up somewhere in '09 which should keep fans and onlookers on their toes. 3.5 stars for this one - very good and very promising - and definitely recommended!

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Send comments to Queen By-Tor (BETA) | Report this review (#195966)
Posted Monday, December 29, 2008 | Review Permalink
b_olariu
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Shadow Circus from USA did an almost great job here, well almost - because the album is nothing special is not bad either, is so so. The music is towards symphonic prog with some theatrical elements in places but aswell some eclectic moments throughout the album are here. Some very fine moments like the opening track Shadow Circus and another piece or two, but he rest is not very convinceing, is rather boring in places like Radio people - total useless track. So, Shadow Circus desearve more than 3 stars????, - no - is rather good record but not excellent for sure, anyway worth some spins from time to time.

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Send comments to b_olariu (BETA) | Report this review (#214365)
Posted Friday, May 08, 2009 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Quite interesting debut album by this american band. I wasn´t expecting much, so I was a bit surprised: they do sound retro, no doubt about it. In fact, the two first songs, Shadow circus and Storm rider seem like something recorded by Styx or Kansas in the late 70´s, apart from the vocal lines, but they are heading in the right way. Lead singer David Lawrence Bobick has a very different voice than what we would expect from a prog band, more suited to early 70´s outfits like Cactus or Faces. While the keyboards are quite progressive (the Hammond organ parts sounding uncanny like Uriah Heep in the very beginning), John Fontana´s guitar is definitly influenced by the hard rock/blues style of the american bands of that decade.

The album is very well produced and the band knows how to write some good stuff. Their combination of different styles work well most of the time, even if Bobick´s voice is a bit aquiring the taste. The two last tracks, with their late 60´s/early 70´s style are more suited for him, even if In The Wake Of A Dancing Flame is a bit monotonous. Radio People shows their more poppish, whimsical side. The tracklist is a bit uneven, but Shadow Circus is surely on its way to find their very own sound already. A nice surprise.

All in all I found Welcome To The Freakroom to be good, if not essential. And the band is very promising.

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Send comments to Tarcisio Moura (BETA) | Report this review (#214955)
Posted Monday, May 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
Menswear
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars Pfft.

Looking for new talents is always a pleasure and generates excitement for me. Here, there and everywhere; bands are legions claiming to have something special to offer.

Not the case here.

Shadow Circus is not giving a new face to music, not by a second. If you're not giving a new face, at least give something to chew on. I really tried to give this album a chance, therefore I can say this with a clear conscience: I'm bored. The songs are plain and lack 'freak impact'. I mean, this is supposed to be a freak room, right? Where's the insanity? Where's the madness, the edge?

The songs are sliding from FM 90's style to pseudo-western, I don't know; it's hard to listen through, mainly because of the leader's incapacity to sing and the lack of creativity from the band. Heard this 1000 times over, and better at that. Just plain ordinary next-door-neighboor stuff with a really horrible cover.

Sprinkle some madness next time.

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Send comments to Menswear (BETA) | Report this review (#237198)
Posted Friday, September 04, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars I got this album a while ago without listening to it and only put it in my cd player when the band offered free copies to the reviewers who wanted to review their second album. Which I will do after completing this review. I have not forgotten............ But let's start with the debut album first.

Behind a pretty eye catching album cover and the opening minutes of this album (Shadow Circus), which leads me in the direction of vaudeville music (Alice Cooper & co), I find a very mature album. An album I am pretty sure has been honed during fifteen years. Not that I believe the music is that old. But I believe the honing of their skills and the experiences has been distilled into this album and probably their second album too. In short; their sound.

And then I am being told this is symphonic prog. Huh ?!? Strange kind of symphonic prog they have in this old British colony, the United States of America. It is like they received a box of symphonic prog albums in Boston harbour, emptied this box in the water and carried on their journey to Los Angeles with a box of candy they then brand "symphonic prog". But in my view; this album is nowhere near being symphonic prog. Nowhere near. I would rather brand their music as Art Rock. No less, no more.

Art Rock also means their music is very much an album of independent songs. The opening song Shadow Circus is a vaudeville rock song which Alice Cooper would had been happy with. The rest of the songs are more complex songs with a lot of influences. From strong influences of classic music from India at Storm Rider to a more somber, country & western esque song on In the Wake of a Dancing Flame. The latter song is the best of the album, both melody and lyrics wise. In between, we also finds some sparkling, feel good American culture collages. In short; Shadow Circus takes us on a ride through USA and it's many mainstream and sub cultures. This is therefore a very American album. Americana, it is called.

I am often looking for the X-Factor on an album or in a piece of music. That is the feeling I get, but cannot put into word. It is the feeling that elevates a piece of music or an album from decent/good to excellent. This album has got the X-Factor. The quality is excellent from the opening bars to the final seconds. A real killer track would had been the icing on this cake, but this album is still a very impressive album. The same also goes for the band. This band has everything but a Peter Grant which has the balls to break them. That's the only thing that stands between them and the position as the top dog in the Art Rock world with some occasional successful forays into the mainstream music world.

This is an exceptional good debut album and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

4 stars

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Send comments to toroddfuglesteg (BETA) | Report this review (#294045)
Posted Tuesday, August 10, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars The first of Shadow Circus' three albums is the rawest, loudest and, well, rockiest. Six songs, most of them pretty long, with tempo changes, although not very complicated, plus one epic. Almost feels like a teaser, EP kind of disk. It evokes memories of 70s U.S. poppy and bombastic hard rock, think Kansas and Styx at their most playful, with guitar leading the way and piano and organ not far behind. The first three songs radiate a distinctive Americana, almost saloon kind of feel with provincial circus traveling thru the vast Americana and western riders catching on a storm. The concluding 11-minute epic features a grand instrumental intro, guitar heroics and catchy vocal melodies, although the theatrical vocalist does have a nasal tone to him.

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Send comments to Progrussia (BETA) | Report this review (#1069302)
Posted Wednesday, October 30, 2013 | Review Permalink

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