CIRCLE II CIRCLE – The Middle Of Nowhere

CIRCLE II CIRCLE - The Middle Of Nowhere


Release date: August 30, 2005

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With this second release, read the about the first one here, which was one of the most successful newcomers over the last few years, Circle II Circle, are back for another round. Have they come full circle? Nah, some might even call it Circus II Circus, because former Savatage-singer Zachary Stevens returns with a totally new lineup – he has already outdone Savatage in the “band members through the revolving door”-league. But frankly – who cares? As long as Zak himself is on stage, Circle II Circle means that he sings circles around most other singers, no matter what kind of circus goes on behind the scenes. Zak fills the venue AND the outside parking lot with his voice when he works. Who else could have followed in Jon Oliva’s footsteps back in 1993 without one single bad review? To do so, you need guts, you need self-confidence, and you need a gift from whomever makes our destiny – and Zak has it all.

Again, helped by Jon “I definitely ain’t no midget” Oliva and a ghost guitar player that won’t be identified, Zak has recorded another album that should make him proud. Joining him in writing a few songs this time around, apart from Oliva, is Bernd Aufermann, known from the recently reunited German Power Metal act Angel Dust. Someone must have realized that Oliva and Nevermore’s Jeff Loomis aren’t making a record together any time soon, so why not have Bernie and Zak put their creative minds together? The result is “All That Remains,” the lead song off of the band’s new EP.

The Middle Of Nowhere sounds more guitar driven than the debut, Watching In Silence. That way, Mr. Stevens is taking a baby step away from the Savatage comparisons. Not that Savatage isn’t a guitar driven band, but when Zak was fronting them, the focus was more on bombastic arrangements than guitar driven Metal. You won’t find the typical piano intro’s this time around (presuming that AFM’s fucked up and faded promo CD isn’t giving the wrong impressions here), making this album as different from the debut as Edge Of Thorns was from Streets. Eh, are we coming full circle after all?

The album starts off with a mellow Savatage-like tune, “In This Life,” and you’d be willing to bet your left nut that Oliva is playing the acoustic guitar. A nice clean lead guitar and keyboards make a great setting, followed by Zak’s impressive vocal delivery, before the song explodes with a bombastic Savatage riff. All comparisons aside, this song is not style-wise representative of the whole record, but it’s a really good tune with a nice and melodic guitar solo. Next is the mentioned “All That Remains,” where Bernie’s signature guitar style shines through. This is a heavier track and sets the pace for the next 5-6 songs, that vary from mid-tempo Hard Rock (“Holding On”) to Progressive riff-based songs (“Cynical Ride”) and even a more-than-slightly Van Halen-influenced number, “Hollowed,” and the up-tempo rocker, “Psycho Motor.”

“Faces In The Dark” has more of that beautiful and melodic guitar and mellow expression, like the opener “In This Life” … so at least the album is coming full circle? The song breaks into a typical Oliva-riff halfway through, and if your left nut is gone, you will have to bet your right one that the Mountain King had a hand in this one as well.

The title track opens with trademark Oliva piano, and has a majestic sound with lots of keyboards. This song needs a few spins before you get comfortable with it, but when you do, you’ll realize that it’s a worthy title track; very well performed. As a special bonus for Zak’s old fans, the song has counterpoint vocals at the end.

The last song, and the best of them all, is “Lost” – and for those of you who looked forward to seeing Zak on stage last year in Atlanta — where he was supposed to do a set with old Savatage members –- no, the song is not about Zak’s finger. Sources say it’s still there … Anyway, “Lost” is a beautiful ballad with Zak and an acoustic guitar, something he hasn’t done since the beautiful “Sleep” off Edge Of Thorns in 1993 (please forget about those lame bonus tracks that fucked the Savatage fans over in 1997). “Lost” reminds of Blackmore’s Night’s “Now And Then” – that’s how beautiful it is.

Coming full circle or not, or still conducting a circus – Zak Stevens proves again that he can be counted on. If you liked Watching In Silence, you will embrace this one, too, but maybe not that instantly. The most durable singer in the business shows hunger – now feed him!


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