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Shadow Circus - Welcome To The Freakroom CD (album) cover


Shadow Circus


Symphonic Prog

3.33 | 72 ratings

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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!

Queen By-Tor | 3/5 |


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