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NINE

Circus Maximus

Progressive Metal


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5 stars First off, I'd like to thank Frontiers for giving me the honor of being the first reviewer of this fine album by allowing me to listen to this album before the release date.

Five years. That's how long I have anticipated this album. I'll get this out of the way and give the readers the disclaimer that I am a fan of this band - having seen them live twice has convinced me that they are a stellar band and no one can convince me otherwise. HOWEVER, and PLEASE continue reading...five years of anticipation did not prepare me for what was to come. As I eagerly began the album in my car, I was completely blown away as I turned my stereo DOWN...something that rarely happens in my car. I thought "wow...I didn't know my speakers were capable of this...what IS that sound?" Let me just summarize here by telling you that the production on this album is stellar - Circus Maximus has obviously earned enough respect that Frontiers Records is putting more money into mixing and such than Sensory records were willing/able to spend on them. And it shows, because the album sound is top notch. So back to my story - I had just turned my stereo down and I'm thinking "what IS that sound?" I immediately realized something, and it is a conclusion that did not change throughout the album - 5 years between albums showed. If you have picked up one or both of Circus Maximus' other albums and thought they were ok, but weren't crazy about them, you might want to think about picking this album up anyways, because it is a totally different experience. This isn't to say that CM fans will be disappointed - no, the sound is still recognizable. But they sound all grown up. They aren't trying to prove anything anymore - they're comfortable with the fact that they've already proven themselves. Yes, you will still hear impressive riffs and instrumental wizardry. But they hang back at times and build suspense, so that when they come crashing in with their thunderous heavy metal chords, it sounds all the more heavy. And let me tell you, because of the production I mentioned before, the pounding bass and drums, the otherworldly keyboard sounds, and the crashing electric guitar are going to reach out of your speakers and slap you right in the face. But the really exciting thing to me is how much they've changed since the last album - don't get me wrong, I LOVED both of their earlier works. But this album, while being fully recognizable as Circus Maximus, has sections that I am sure I could play for a CM fan without telling them who it was, and as long as they didn't hear the familiar tone of Michael Eriksen's singing, I'm willing to bet they would not recognize the band. With this album, Circus Maximus builds off of the foundation they've built in the first two albums and explores new territory, and it is a very exciting thing to hear. So I'm going to do something I have not done before in a review and go through this album track by track:

Forging - this is a 76 second instrumental intro, so there is not much to say about it, although it serves it's purpose by building suspense with some dark keyboards, like walking through a heavy fog.

Architect of Fortune - well, they definitely start things off with a bang on this 10 minute plus epic. The piece starts off with a sound that will leave CM fans thinking "did I put the right CD in my player? Is this Circus Maximus?" An eerie whine, like a far off siren warning of danger, is backed by unbelievably thunderous bass and drums, and then the guitar comes crashing in and you know "yes, this is Circus Maximus." But what makes this epic so special is the fact that musically speaking, it is all over the place while still feeling seamless. It is unmistakeably one piece, and yet so very diverse in tone, tempo, and volume. It's like being taken for a ride, and not realizing how far you've come until the end when you look back and see just how far away the starting point is. This song will leave you shaking your head in disbelief after the journey is over.

Namaste - ok, now that we've told you a nice long thrilling musical tale, let's pound your face for a while - hear us roar! That's what I imagine them saying at a concert if they played this song immediately after the previous. This song demands respect from their heavy metal fans. And yet they still manage to throw in some musical curveballs, while keeping it somewhat subtle.

Game of Life - ah, now here's that melodic metal sound CM fans are used to. This is where CM show how they can throw hooks like anybody, and yet still have the chops to shred your face off. Michael Eriksen is going to show his amazing range, while never hanging out in the stratosphere for too long (as is an unfortunately all too common habit of too many metal acts, in my opinion) but just enough for you to know he can hit those notes like nobody's business. And Mats Haugen is going to build a guitar solo that will show you he can shred your face off with the best of them.

Reach Within - this song has the very interesting quality of feeling heavy and soft at the same time. While Michael Eriksen gently sings the verse, the bass line pounds beneath, and creates an interesting contrast. This song has a "single", radio-friendly feel to it, and yet there are subtle progressive undertones. Once again, Mats Haugen throws in a souring guitar solo, though this one I find reminiscent of Joe Satriani.

I Am - The opening of the song tricks you into thinking this is going to be a pop-oriented, single-worthy type of song, but then they throw in time-signature changes and stop/start rhythms. There are some very nice keyboard parts to this song that give it a lot of character. And of course, they throw in a nice guitar solo with some guitar and keyboard unison soli. All in all a joyful/triumphant prog romp.

Used - This track is a nice change of pace, as they show off their headbanger side. This is a rough and tumble heavy metal romp. But don't be fooled by the opening 4/4 time signature - they're going to throw off your headbanging with their masterful quick time signature changes. It's so easy to think you know exactly where this band is going with a tune, and then to be completely thrown off guard and I love it!

The One - The opening to this song tricks you into thinking it's an "I'm sorry" type of song, but it abbruptly changes to a more stern/angry tone that will have you banging your head in agreement. Again, Lasse Finbraten's keyboards add some great atmosphere to the song that is the difference between good and excellent.

Burn After Reading - So, at this point, you might be thinking "hey, out of all the songs on this album I've heard so far, only one is more than five minutes long - where are all the epics?" Never fear, for CM has saved two very, very special treats for you at the end of the album. I think this may be my favorite track, though it's hard to decide. The piece starts off with some very nice acoustic guitar parts, that have an upbeat tempo that tells you something bigger is coming - you just know it. But CM masterfully builds the suspense in this piece - just as you think things are going to get loud, they pull back again, teasing their listeners. I found the vocals in some of the quieter parts to be very interesting as they reminded me of Muse, or Freddy Mercury - once again I found myself asking (in a good way) "who IS this band?!" In a rare turn of events, I found myself paying a lot of attention to the lyrics of this one - they are a lament over the mistakes made over the course of life resulting in lost relationships, and the chorus is a real tearjerker: Every shimmering rock I've collected Kept weighing me down Pulling me to the ground All that I have left of us is a memory A picture of you and me

The song builds up to an instrumental section that is just the kind of monstrous prog hurricane you would expect from this band, the trading off and unison section between Mats Haugen on guitars and Lasse Finbraten on keyboards, and the twisting and turning changing key signatures are astounding. And then they throw the listener for a loop when this instrumental section stops instantly, leaving you stunned as Michael once again sings oh so softly, gently, in a section that once again reminds me of Muse. But they don't stay here, but crank it up before fading away in the end. Brilliant epic piece by the Circus.

Last Goodbye - Another brilliant epic. The song starts off with some keyboard sounds that are a very, very unusual sound for this band - I can only describe it as a spacey-80's sound. Of course they don't stay there, but build up from there. As the song's title suggests, this song is a last goodbye to an old friend. But it is a real tear jerker for me as, instead of coming off as mournful, it is more of a joyful celebration of the times shared together - at times coming off as...triumphant. This makes the gentle sadness over the departure all the more emotional, and it is a wonderful finish to the album, leaving me thrilled and spent after the roller coaster of this album.

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Send comments to dtguitarfan (BETA) | Report this review (#757358)
Posted Thursday, May 24, 2012 | Review Permalink
Nightfly
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
3 stars Third album from the Norwegian five piece, Nine continues in the same vein as Circus Maximus's second (haven't heard the first) album Isolate, i.e. melodic progressive metal.

Circus Maximus are undoubtedly a talented band, standing out in many respects from most of the prog metal community because of their strong leanings towards melodic metal and AOR. They owe as much, if not more so to fellow Scandinavian's Europe as they do to the likes of Dream Theater. Whilst previous release Isolate was also packed with melodies the balance between melodic metal and prog was more equal. Here the balance shifts more in the favour of melodic metal and AOR for the most part. Vocalist Mike Eriksen certainly has the voice for the job, his clean and melodic tones soar over the ten easily accessible compositions. The band all play well, highlights being Burn After Reading for some great instrumental work and Used for a killer riff, but whilst Nine is never less than good, the lack of a few more exceptional pieces means I'll settle for 3 stars.

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Send comments to Nightfly (BETA) | Report this review (#791780)
Posted Saturday, July 21, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars The Personal Classic

There are those albums. You know, those ones. The ones that you listen to to take you back somewhere, or to make you feel something that nothing else can make you feel. The ones that bring unfiltered amounts of nostalgia, because we all know that music is second to none (ok, maybe smell) in terms of nostalgic value. A few weeks ago, I finally managed to review Hospice, the timeless classic of a feelings album from The Antlers. And when I reviewed it, I mentioned how I felt the need to avoid talking about the music, because the album is just so special that it becomes hard to talk about the reasons why. Nine is one of these albums. But unlike Hospice, Nine doesn't have any of the historical significance or critical acclaim surrounding it. Why this album isn't considered one of the greatest records ever conceived is beyond me, let alone why some people prefer the Dream Theater worship of their first two records to the emotional brilliance of this album.

So really, like Hospice, I feel I need to give this one a hell of an introduction, because this is really quite a significant record to me personally, and there is a very specific reason I am reviewing it today, on the 27th of March, but I shall not go too far into my personal stories out of fear of people disregarding my opinions due to my nature as an emotional teenager. But I will say this:

This I one of the greatest records I have had the pleasure of hearing.

But I should first point out something that may have been misconstrued from my introduction ? this is no depressed emotional wasteland of feelings. I mean, it's a progressive metal record, for [%*!#]s sake, not a monolithic barren indie slowcore wasteland. So despite having several moments of raw beauty and emotion, this record does a whole lot more ? a reason why this album pushes beyond a whole lot of strictly emotional music, because it has the complexity and the intricate parts and the big riffs that progressive metal is usually fluid with.

When I first started to get into this record, I was completely shocked. Not just because this is, as I said before, an all-time classic, but also because there was nearly no suggestion of this brilliance on the band's previous record, Isolate. I had heard Isolate a couple of years earlier, when my friend and I were starting to get into progressive metal initially. Circus Maximus were one of the very few bands that he found before I did, and Isolate impressed us at the time as much as any Dream Theater or Symphony X record did, but time taught us that none of these were truly significant. When Nine was first announced, I really didn't go out of my way to hear it. It was on my radar, and I did spend a bit of time looking for a link to hear it, but for a while I just brushed it off as "it'll sound like Isolate".

But what really is a step-up here, and this is truly the biggest step-up I have ever heard, is that not only have Circus Maximus shifted their focus from technicality and shred-core to emotion and lyrical profundity, but the progressive metal portions of the music are also so much more refined and cohesive. Something must have truly happened during that five-year break to these guys, because gone are any hints of power metal, gone are the song-length shredding duels, and any moments when soloing does begin is done tastefully and with some utterly brilliant melodies. Take a track like "Game of Life". Is it a trve prog metal song? Does it have ridiculous signatures and a fourteen-minute solo? No, it's actually more or less a pop song. The chorus on this track is one of the most infectious on the album, the sort of thing you'd sing at the top of your lungs whilst cruising in your sick-as 1955 Morris Minor, and the rather cheesy feel-good lyrics could cause some cynical progheads to compare it to Disney-pop. But I love the melody here, and as I will discuss later, I love the lyrics even more. And while Isolate and The 1st Chapter were prog metal albums, with the prog and the metal underlined in bold, Nine, especially with a track like "Game of Life", focuses on making a song first, before adding the Circus Maximus twist on after.

And it is a fine twist. The song may be pop at heart, but that lead riff, particularly due to the thick and meaty tone on it, is absolutely awesome, as well as the solo, which really showcases the brilliant melodic ear that these guys have developed in the time between Isolate and Nine. There are plenty of solos here, both of keyboard and guitar, and nearly every one is memorable and brilliant. Anyone who knows my taste in music knows that I am no fan of instrumental wankery, and prog metal is one of the worst offenders of this crime, to the point when many, many bands can thrill me in their verses, and bore me out of my mind in their soloing. But Circus Maximus' solos are [/i]different[/i]. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think that the term I would use to describe them is melodic.

Now, now, to all the Dream Theater fans who just shouted "BUT PETRUCCI IS MELODIC; HE USES SCALES AND MODES AND SHIT" at my hatred for DT's soloing, that's not what I mean. I mean that with basically every solo here, you can remember it. I can basically sing any of the solos on Nine out loud, right now. Sure, a couple of them are in the same key and I'd probably get them mixed up, but the point is that I can remember them, completely. And I think it's Mats Haugen's brilliant sense of melody that creates this. The solos here are crafted in the same way that a vocal melody is crafted ? to be memorable. I don't know anyone who remembers any Petrucci solo with 150 notes a second (except for fanboys), but most of the solos here sound like the sort of thing Michael Eriksen would be singing for that section, with a few more notes in between. Haugen does use sweeps and slides and whatnot, but they're not blatant wank. He has a destination note to get to, and a note he starts the run on, and he rarely will play faster than 32nds, and rarely will play them for more than a couple of measures.

And as well as being a better progressive metal band than most of the leading prog metal giants, Circus Maximus certainly stand out massively in another regard ? their lyrics. I don't usually talk about lyrics when I review music, especially not with progressive metal, but I really just feel some of these lyrics are just so good that I need to mention them. I like to think that I'd still like this as much even without the great lyrics, simply because of how well written the music is, but I'm honestly not sure, because the lyrics are what really drew me to the album this time last year, and are what convinced me to write this review today. I've talked for hours about "Reach Within" before, but I still should give it a brief mention, because it was my theme song at the time, the song that defined my mindset and life, and ultimately it was what brought me down, because showing my feelings and becoming "the one you locked away for years" caused some unfortunately bad things to happen, but the message still remains. Many, many people will mock these lyrics and laugh at Circus Maximus appealing to their teenage fanbase. And I guess so, because these lyrics really do appeal to me. They're meaningful and about real things and real experiences, not about spaceships or the government.

Aside from "Reach Within", I guess the opener "Architect of Fortune" tackles a similar sort of topic. I distinctly remember the day I first realised what this song was about, long before any of the events I am now alluding to, and in even worse context, but it was such a punch in the gut. "I never knew I could map out my life." I mean, if this isn't something that makes you sit and think "damn", I really don't know what is. It's weird, how if I subconsciously think about my worldview today, about how I am aiming so high in every field I am attempting to be in, about how I am trying to be something no one has ever been before, and then think about what I was like before Nine, I really start to realise the impact on my personality that this album has had, and I really can't say that about any other records, at all. It's even shaped my direction, musically. This album taught me that to make prog metal, you didn't have to write about spaceships or terrorism, and to write meaningful and lesson-based music, you didn't have to sound like Linkin Park.

But it's not as if it's just the lyrics that make "Architect of Fortune" one of the best songs ever composed. In my mind, this is an example of the perfect epic, structured so immaculately and flowing so smoothly. I even feel, in this regard, it's better than the closer "Last Goodbye", but as I will talk about later, that song is something else. I absolutely love the mood of this track, the uplifting revelation tone, quadrupled by the near-symphonic keyboard parts and thunderously pounding drumming. This song, heightened by the lyrics, feels like a blissful realisation of the universe, like a manifestation of a spiritual experience, in song form. The verses are introspective, observing the narrator's current worldview in a new light, but the chorus is euphoric, immense, uplifting, inspirational. It's beyond anything I could put into words here, yet somehow it's not even the best part of the album.

Or even the best part of the song. No, there is something even more beautiful later on. This is one of those moments that, on first few listens, I would always go "Oh. Oh. I forgot about this part.", and the song would raise tenfold. I'm referring, of course, to the absolutely crushing little piano melody that comes into the bridge about six minutes in. It's so simple, yet it destroys you, emotionally. And then when it comes back, full blast on the keyboards in the most rich synth tone, it lifts you back up into space. The mood lifts so perfectly for Haugen's second solo of the track, even better than the first, yet still not even the best on the record. I'm sure if I were to list my favourite guitar solos of all time, at least half of the top 10 would be from this record, and the second solo on "Architect of Fortune" is certainly one of these, especially in the way it leads into the final chorus. Needless to say, this song is phenomenal. (Obligatory comment about how it still isn't even the best).

Oh wait. Damn, I forgot to talk about the awesome 11/8 riff in Architect, one of the best uses of 11 ever, and the default riff I drop to when I want to show off that I can play in 11. I also didn't even mention the basslines, or the first solo, or actually a whole lot of it. But I really don't want to ramble. The point is ? I could talk about many specific parts of this record for hours, and I feel I need to cut down. So I'll try to focus a bit more.

The last two tracks here, being the other epics of the album, are probably the ones that need discussion the most, and Circus Maximus have certainly made these tracks stand out from the shorter stuff; they really feel like they were meant to be long, not just long because prog dictates they must be. I really like how "Burn After Reading", when you first hear it, sounds like it could be a short acoustic interlude. In fact, you nearly expect it, since that's a regular practice in prog metal, but the song slowly develops around the simple acoustic guitar melody before exploding into one of the biggest riffs on the album. I'll admit, the midsection of this song is the only time on the album when the soloing verges on the wanky mess from Isolate, but there are enough moments on either side to rectify this, especially the final chorus. Yes, it's hard to really use my superlatives well enough to separate awesome moment from awesome moment on this album, but let me say this ? this chorus is awesome. Italicised. And to go back to the melodramatic reasons for my nostalgic review today, it really does mean a bit to me lyrically. "Every shimmering rock I've collected kept dragging me down." As well as the obvious "All that I have left now of us is a memory" and the title, Burn After Reading, about truly moving forward from something that you have been dwelling on. Because no matter how good it once was, reminiscing about better times will always bring you down in the present.

But this entire album is really just building to an ending. Yes, "Burn After Reading" would be one hell of an ending and would likely still plant this album in my top 20 if the album finished there. But it doesn't, because everything on this album pales in comparison to the final track, "Last Goodbye". The odd thing about this song, which is in my top 15 or so songs ever written, is that I've never really liked the verses. At all. I just think they're a bit weak in comparison to most of the album, and especially weak in comparison to this song. I like the lyrics during them, but the syncopated guitar and vocal melody doesn't really fit them, or mesh with the rest of the song awfully well. But you know what? I don't care, because the rest of this song is that good. I can just ignore them.

The song opens with my favourite guitar solo of all time. Yes, the best, in my ears. It starts so subtle and beautiful, gliding gently over the rather odd 7/4 acoustic guitar. At this point, the song reminds me a bit of opener "Architect of Fortune", although that track opened up bombastic, this one starts of solemn, building the intensity throughout the intro. When the distorted bass comes in, I hear hints of that wonderful riff in the intro of "Reach Within", but with so much more intensity. But it's only when the guitar soars up to play the chorus melody over the intense drums that the goosebumps come in. And it is really quite spellbinding. The lyrics on this track hit an even more personal note, writing about the loss of a close friend, but rather than crying about it in a depressed emo way, this song is euphoric and uplifting, feeling like a celebration rather than a mourning. Yet it is somehow just as beautiful. I love the ending of the track, how long after the song has died, we have the long and fading outro, with "this is our last goodbye" softly fading outwards. To bring this album back to Hospice in comparison, this definitely reminds me of the ending of "Epilogue", but in nearly the opposite way. "Epilogue" was a slow and painful death, with her memory drifting out and his life force with it, "Last Goodbye" is a tribute; a final message before passing, and the passing seems actually quite pleasant, because it's not an ending, it's a new beginning.

This is about the point when I talk about the letdowns on this album - the things that stop it from being perfect. And yes, there are some, but I think they are so minimal that they can be completely ignored. I didn't mention many of the tracks in this review, but even they are pretty damn good. The weakest on here is certainly "Used", but that has an absolutely bitchin intro, the most headbanging thing on the record, and is actually tons of fun to listen to. "Namaste" is weak in comparison as well, but it has a fantastic intro, as well as the obligatory catchy chorus. "Burn After Reading" has a fair bit of wank in the solo, and a couple of the verses, including the aforementioned slab of perfection "Last Goodbye" are a bit lacklustre in comparison to their choruses.

It's hard to really write a cohesive opinion of a record like Nine without losing myself to a mess of superlatives and listing things that are awesome or awesome, but I really felt this record needed someone to point out just what a classic it is. Of all my favourite albums, I've seen at least a few others agree with me that they are classics, but not really this one, which seems a bit odd. This may not be my favourite album of all time (although it's damn close), and it's not even my favourite from 2012 spoiler: click to read, but this is certainly one of the most influential records on my life, and I can definitely tell that that was what Circus Maximus were aiming for with this album. It's profound, it's beautiful, it has moved me to tears on many occasions, and yet at other times it's ripping, it's fun, it's catchy. It goes through so many moods, yet keeps its backbone meaning and style. It has both emotion and technicality; ambition and tribute. And at this point of my review, I'm really starting to wonder about that rating I've given at the bottom, and whether it is truly high enough.

I never really found out what Nine meant. The title, I mean. There are 10 tracks here, none of them hit are nine minutes or have nine anything, although I guess track nine gets the closest. I suppose, if you were to drop the intro, we would have nine tracks, but that leaves the question of why did they split it at all? My friends and I used to joke about how Nine was subliminal messaging for reviewers, to subconsciously give it positive reviews. Well, your devious plan has failed, Circus Maximus, because this isn't a nine, it's a?

9.9

Oh wait?

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

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Send comments to Gallifrey (BETA) | Report this review (#867590)
Posted Tuesday, November 27, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars (I'm guessing the album is called 9 cause there is 9 tracks on it)

Norway's prog scene has seen some interesting acts emerge. From Black Metallers Enslaved & Borknagar taking extreme metal to the prog side and bands like Leprous now taking the firm interest

This album is very different to their first two albums, mainly due to the more melodic style which the band has now infused into their style. I'm not saying there was no melody before, but on this album, the melody is definitely a major highlight on this release. In fact, the highlight on melody is such a massive point that most of the songs give off a poppy vibe.

The album does bode a lot of interesting moments and return to forms, but this is definitely a step in the right direction for these guys, and really bodes well for the future.A lot of people always give bands like these guys a bad name, mainly because they sound like Dream Theater. Now let's get it clear. Dream Theater are the world's biggest Progressive Metal band. Just cause these guys play prog metal doesn't mean they are a rip off. Of course there would be similarities, they are in the same genre, but these guys aren't a copycat band.

The opening epic "Architect Of Fortune" is definitely one of the best tracks on the album. The album's longest song, it is definitely one of the better tracks on the album. With an intro that sounds like Opeth jamming with Dream Theater. The song does progressive into a rather interesting epic, with some brilliant instrumental work. The lyrics of the song also paint a interesting picture and bring up a lot of topics including religion, God and humanism.

"Namaste" is a rather interesting track. With some rather interesting rhythms in the verse, it really is one of the most original prog metal songs I've heard in a while.

One of the most interesting songs has to be "Reach Within." Pretty much a cheesy pop song, but it works well. You may be humming this song for years, so...a warning for those with sensitive ears.

One of the most 'metal' songs on the album has to be the track "Used." Showing the band's more heavier sound, this song is definitely one of the album's most kick ass moments.

The album's second epic "Burn After Reading" is another interesting track. Like the opener, it has a lot of diversity throughout it, especially with a very nice acoustic opening.

The closing track "Last Goodbye" is a rather interesting song. Lyrically, the song deals with saying goodbye to someone, and it's rather good, but also rather cheesy at the same time. Michael's vocals really do shine in this song. The ending is very beautiful as well.

In conclusion, this is something different, and I rather enjoyed it. This really isn't best prog metal album ever, but this is something a bit different. If you like good songwriting with some amazing musicians playing, then I would recommend giving this album a listen.

7.6/10

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Send comments to arcane-beautiful (BETA) | Report this review (#1024635)
Posted Tuesday, August 27, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars Circus Maximus is a talented melodic prog power band from Norway. The first thing I noticed on Nine, having listened to their other albums, is the overproduced sound. One could only wonder how many filters instruments went through to achieve this glossy, teenage-friendly wall of sound. Album is about evenly divided between longer, proggier songs and radio-friendly hits about such mainstream things as standing your ground and tragic romantic love. But don't worry, this is still prog, and metal, so you'll get the usual fix of a punchy sound, different musical approaches (an electronic beat, a blastbeat, a bluesy guitar and so on) and instrumental candy.

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Send comments to Progrussia (BETA) | Report this review (#1160130)
Posted Friday, April 11, 2014 | Review Permalink

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