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Vienna Circle - Secrets of the Rising Sun CD (album) cover


Vienna Circle


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5 stars "A great guitar album, extremely melodic, and a must listen. Especially for fans of Pink Floyd and Camel."

Once I heard that Vienna Circle were releasing a new album 8 years after their last, it swiftly became the most anticipated album of the year for me. Their previous two albums were solid and although I could see room for improvement in areas, I could see the potential for greater albums in years come. I am also one for being stuck in my old classic prog ways and find modern prog rarely captures the brilliance of the classic prog era, and this band has always paid homage to the great prog acts of the past.

Vienna Circle has always been a duo, two brothers, Paul and Jack Davis, and when I heard the news that Jack Davis had left the band and wasn't to be a part of this new album I have to admit I wasn't sure what to expect. As with all my reviews I make sure I give the albums at least 5 plays through before reviewing as with many of these albums it's impossible to digest everything and have a fair opinion on just one listen. It just so happens this particular album got about 20 listens and here are my thoughts.

The album opens with the longest track on the album, and one of the two highlights on the album for me, 'Golden Sunset Roulette', starting with a very prog sounding, 'Watcher of the Skies' style guitar/drum/organ sequence, very cool. It had me sucked in straight away. This song has everything you want from a prog epic. The guitar playing on this album is absolutely superb and very reminiscent of Camel's Andy Latimer, David Gilmour, and at times even Mike Oldfield. The song has strong melody after strong melody throughout, as can be said for the album as a whole.

Five of the nine tracks on this album are instrumental. When I said above that I'd always heard room for improvement in the previous two recordings, the main area would've been vocally. Although the sound of Paul Davis' voice was pleasant, you got the sense of inexperience in his voice but in a strange way it worked for me. I'd be lying however if I wasn't hoping for a slight improvement in this area. Fortunately, on this album the vocals have improved massively and at times are great.

Paul offers up singing duties to Gemma Davis for one of the tracks. 'That Night', which I have to say, it will not leave your head if you give it a few listens. The guitar part is extremely catchy and together with the vocals are slightly reminiscent of Mike Oldfields 'Moonlight Shadow'.

'Sunset Revolver' is a much heavier, metal instrumental that brings back themes from the first track and in particular that crazy catchy arpeggiated guitar melody from the album opener. One for fans of Dream Theater/Riverside for sure as Paul shows off his technical ability on both keys and guitar.

'Fly Lady Fly' offers the album something different with its thumping kick drum chorus. The piano melody is beautiful and reminds me very much of the piano playing in the earlier Camel albums. Probably the closest to a ballad on the album, 'Fly Lady Fly' hosts probably my favourite guitar solo on the album.

The title track 'Secrets of the Rising Sun' catches your attention immediately and has a bit of everything that I enjoy about this band. Sawing guitar solos, catchy choruses, great synth playing, and killer guitar riffs. Try and listen to the guitar riff at the end of the song without headbanging. This track is very reminiscent of classic Pink Floyd for me.

The album closes with the song 'Canyons'. Wow. What a track. Although this album really is full of highlights for me throughout, this track is a real stand out. Everything I want from a prog song. The guitar playing is up there with the greats in my opinion and I can't help but think Paul Davis will never get the exposure he deserves.

So, to conclude, any doubts that the loss of a band member would slow the progress of the band have been quashed and Paul Davis has produced a real masterpiece for me here and the best Vienna Circle album yet. It's clear who Paul Davis' inspirations are, yet at the same time he has managed to form a sound that is unique to Vienna Circle.

The album is very well constructed as a complete start to end piece of work. Each track is different, and the album has kept me interested throughout. I have been on a journey to find new/current artists in the prog genre that can truly be handed the baton by the prog greats from the 70s/80s and I have found one in Vienna Circle and Paul Davis. It's one of those albums where you can say, if this was released in the 70's, I think it would be up there with some of the greatest prog albums of all time. A great guitar album, extremely melodic, and a must listen. Especially for fans of Pink Floyd and Camel.

Report this review (#2542709)
Posted Saturday, May 15, 2021 | Review Permalink
2 stars Secrets of the Rising Sun is an album I've discovered while trying to listen to the good lot of 2021 prog. I've given it one listen, but it was enough for me to determine how I feel about this record. It's a real mixed bag, with some songs having both really good highs and really shallow lows. I want to be fair, especially with an album that has only a few reviews (eg, regardless of the actual score of this review, I don't want to persuade anyone to not check this album out).

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way: what the heck were they thinking with the vocal production? On the vocals on the first song, I thought it was a stylistic choice because of how clear it was. I'm not sure what kind of auto-tune/pitch correction they used, but it completely destroyed the timbre of all the voices on this record. It sounds vocoded because of how heavy it is, but it's clearly just an effect that was stacked on (with also a boatload of compression and really grossly pristine reverb). On one hand, this wasn't even a musical choice but a production choice (I say choice because there's no way they weren't conscious of how it sounds), but it demolished the delivery of the album for me. I know Vienna Circle knows how to produce an album because the guitar and even the drums sound not just fine, but actually really good. The worst of the bunch is That Night. If it's a stylistic choice, it just doesn't sound good. It's a shame, because I think without it there are some awesome songs that could've shined (fly lady fly, title track, golden sunset roulette). In fact, I could see myself giving this album a higher rating if it was purely instrumental.

The worst songwriting flub is on the song Rivers, just the clap track towards the end. It took away from any sense of development and frankly sounds out of place where it is. Some of the synth tones on this album are very typical of neo-prog: questionable, but not really huge offenders.

The guitars on this album, however, sound awesome! There are some prime moments scattered throughout this record. The best is definitely the peak of the song Fly Lady Fly. Carnival is a killer track! It's a really sick buildup, although I feel like it gets cut up somewhat. Sunset Revolver is my pick for the highlight of Secrets of the Rising Sun. It hits the right spot with the combination of prog metal/heavy neo prog riffage, and it's also instrumental, so no robot vocals. Canyons is also awesome, with some atmospheric soloing that evokes Pink Floyd. The closest the vocals come to working is on the title track, which is actually really catchy! It blows the other vocal songs out of the water.

This is definitely not an essential album, and I feel like it would turn off people who aren't used to the pitfalls of a lot of neo-prog albums. That said, there are legitimate highs to this record that make this a difficult album for me to put a rating on. I can't see myself going back to it other than for the title track or maybe to re-evaluate my listening later down the line.

Report this review (#2570443)
Posted Saturday, June 12, 2021 | Review Permalink
4 stars I love the fact that the two reviews of this album, posted thus far, are certainly contrasting! Mental_Hygiene struggles to like the album while FredStock is a confirmed VC fan. For me, this album has only come to my attention as a result of a post on the Big Big Train fb page. There are lots of suggestions of bands and albums to try out on such pages - I'm really, really glad I followed this one up!

I'm not about to launch into a track-by-track breakdown of this album but simply say that it really chimes with me personally. The blurb at the top of the VC page cites influences such a Pink Floyd and Marillion. Well, this album has a definite Camel flavour and Paul Davies's soaring guitar has unmistakable leanings towards the wonderful Andy Latimer. I count that as a compliment! The fact that Paul takes on the entire burden of playing and singing everything on this album would suggest to me that it might be a bit narrow - not a bit of it! I was hooked the first time I heard the album (not a common experience!) and was amazed to find that it was the work of a single musician, excepting the addition of Alex Micklewhite on drums, with Gemma Davies handling some of the vocals.

Whilst the guitar work is sublime on this album, there's a completeness to the work that keeps me coming back to it again and again. Wonderfully, in this world of music streaming (where the artist generally receives a pittance for their inspiration) we are able to "try-before-you-buy", and I would encourage all lovers of Camel, as well as bands on the neo-prog genre, to try this album. I'd be surprised if you were disappointed!

Report this review (#2584450)
Posted Sunday, August 8, 2021 | Review Permalink

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