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Shadow Circus - Whispers And Screams CD (album) cover

WHISPERS AND SCREAMS

Shadow Circus

 

Symphonic Prog

3.80 | 88 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'Whispers & Screams' - Shadow Circus (7/10)

The new apparent frontrunners in the field of Symphonic Prog, 'Shadow Circus' have crafted a very likable piece of work here. Despite the fact that this particular type of rock music has been covered time and time again by bands over the past four decades, these talented musicians from the Big Apple have made music here that pays obvious respects to their influences, but isn't completely regressive in the fact that there is stuff here that sounds modern and fresh in the mix. Things here are certainly not perfect in their execution and there's alot of room for Shadow Circus to grow as artists, but this is a lovely introduction to a band I can tell will be going places in the future.

The album starts off with a half hour long epic; 'Project Blue.' Taking a trick from the prog book and writing a multi-part suite to kick off the album, all cannons are fired simultaneously with this one. Although I have not read the book upon which this is based, 'Project Blue' is a musical adaptation of Stephen King's post-apocalyptic novel 'The Stand,' in which an engineered supervirus brings the human race to it's knees, and the survivors try to scrape a new life together. Doesn't sound like the most pleasant and cheerful subject to write about, but Shadow Circus puts an unexpected perspective on it. Kicking off the epic with the rocking riff-heavy 'Captain Trips,' the lyrics actually take the viewpoint of the virus itself and it's hatred for humanity, which I found very amusing and clever. The instrumentation is upbeat and very tight, but the vocals start off a little bit nasal- sounding and weak. Fortunately however, by the time the second track rolls around, the vocals start really improving; and David Bobick proves himself to be a competent vocalist on par with the rest of the group.

While some of the different tracks that comprise 'Project Blue' feel a bit separate; it's clear that this was the music they tried to make the best they could. The introduction of psychedelic nuances at the start of 'The Big Fire' and a hefty dose of instrumental madness during the fourth section ('The Seducing Of Harold Lauder') are just some of the gems along the journey. A country-sounding (almost like the Eagles) ballad polishes off 'Project Blue,' and concluding the first side of 'Whispers & Screams.'

As you might have guessed, the best music on 'Whispers' is during the epic. The other tracks are a bit of a mixed bag, but generally keep a fairly high level of quality to them.

'When The Morning Comes' is a pretty laid-back acoustic ballad that has some of the most beautiful vocal harmonies I've ever heard. In terms of the songwriting and arrangement, it is very warm and could have sufficed as a song with bare guitar/vocals and nothing else. It doesn't hurt in the slightest however, that the music is layered with piano and a charming cello section.

'Willoughby' is perhaps the only song here I don't care for. It definately has qualities and musicianship to it, but it seems a bit disjointed in it's execution. While it's a staple trait for prog songs to have multiple sections in them and different time signatures, 'Willoughby' feels like it has parts of a few different songs on it. The transitions are not so smooth, and while the instrumental sections here are on par with the rest of the album, the melodies here do very little for me.

'Angel' seems like the most conventionally written song here, despite the fact that it's almost eight minutes long. If this song was shortened down a bit, I could easily see this being played on a radio station. With a set of narrative-driven lyrics and some piano driven instrumentation backing them up, it sounds almost like a Bob Seger song with alot more going on.

Finally, we have '...Then In July, The Thunder Came.' This is probably the weirdest moment on the album. After an album's worth of what can be considered good, albeit relatively by- the-numbers Symphonic Prog, there's some slowly building, ominous orchestration worthy of a film score. Throw in some Middle-Eastern timbres and dark guitar lead and there you have it... The shame here is that the track ends almost as soon as it begins, while all the time it felt like it was really building to another epic altogether. As it reaches a climax, it suddenly fades into silence and leaves you wanting more. Hopefully Shadow Circus will realize something along these lines with their third album, because there's alot of potential that I feel wasn't completely tapped into here. Despite the sense of unfulfilled yearning that's left after the fact, the journey is a great and memorable one, and Shadow Circus have firmly established themselves with 'Whispers & Screams' as being one of prog's modern frontrunners.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |

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