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Circle II Circle
The Middle of Nowhere
July 2005
Released: 2005, AFM Records
Rating: 4.0/5
Reviewer: Anders Sandvall

Zachary Stevens is a familiar name within the power metal scene, between 1992 and 2000 he was the lead singer in the legendary power metal act Savatage which released 4 albums with Zak behind the mic.



Zak started to think about a comeback during the winter 02/03 and he formed the band Circle II Circle. The Savatage members Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery helped Zak with the songs and the debut album by Circle II Circle was called WATCHING IN SILENCE and was released in 2003. The debut got glorious reviews all over the hardrock and heavy metal planet.



February of this year saw the release of their EP called ALL THAT REMAINS as a sneak preview of this album and this EP feels like an excellent choice as a first song.



Zak has once again co-worked with Jon Oliva and those two have written some splendid material together. They have written songs jammed with excellent choruses, epic song structure combined with a lot of power. The bio says that this is power metal, I’d rather claim that this is extremely well played heavy metal as a main ingredient with a hint of melodic power metal influenced with progressive metal. The music is also quite technical in the sense that it has a lot of tempo changes built in. The main focus lies in Zak’s incredible voice and he handles all types of vocal challenges and pitches the high notes with no problems.



On his journey to success he also got with him Andrew and Evan that share the guitar duties; both of them do a brilliant job. In the rhythm section we have Paul on bass and Robert on drums that makes a robust and stable section.



THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE was recorded in Cabin Fever Studio in Florida and the mastering was done by Mika Jussila in Finnvox Studio in Helsinki Finland. I have no idea who’s done the production but it sounds like a perfect match and suits this kind of music real well and it leaves enough space to those that deserve it. And we don’t have too long for any ballads ‘because of course we have one or two. We couldn’t have a power metal album without ballads! The ballads and uptempo ballads are represented by “The middle of nowhere” that’s a totally acoustic song with only Zak’s voice and a guitar. The second one is called “Lost” and that song has an opportunity to become a radio hit without a doubt. All of the other tracks are pure metal tracks and the killer tracks are “In this life”, “All that remain”, “Open season”, “Holding on”, “Cynical ride”, “Hollow” and “Psycho motor”.



I can’t find anything with this album that needs to be argued with, the album is totally brilliant except for two things. As usual, AFM have narrowed down each and every song by about 30 seconds except for the two opening tracks. 8 of the tracks have no ending and that’s real frustrating because you can’t hear the whole songs. Also, the fact that my promo doesn't have a final artwork drags down the rating.



Besides that annoying fact, this album is stunning and I have to go out and buy it once it’s in the stores. I’m gonna buy the first album as well and I don’t think that older fans of CIIC are gonna be disappointed at all. This is probably an album that grown on you the more you hear it. The first release contains 1 additional audio bonus track, 1 video bonus track and a media selection.
Track Listing

Tracklist:

1) In this life
2) All that remains
3) Open season
4) Cynical ride
5) Hollow
6) Psycho motor
7) Faces in the dark
8) The middle of nowhere
9) Lost

Lineup

Zak Stevens – lead vocals
Andrew Lee – guitar
Evan Christopher – guitar
Paul Michael – bass
Robert T. Drennan – drums


Next review: » Circle II Circle - The Middle of Nowhere
Previous review: » Circle II Circle - Seasons Will Fall

Circle II Circle
The Middle of Nowhere
December 2005
Released: 2005, AFM Records
Rating: 4.0/5
Reviewer: EvilG

Released in March in Europe, and then in late August 2005 in the USA ,Circle II Circle’s THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE was only a small blip on most people’s metal radar this year. In looking over albums from 2005 for a ‘best-of’ list, I realized I had forgotten that this album came out and that I’d better hear it before finalizing my list! While the album is not ground-breaking, it is as good as, if not better than, the other Savatage offshoots that have been floating around throughout this year. I’ve been guilty of being one of those who complain about there not being a new Savatage studio album each year but if we look at it from the “the glass is half full” perspective, we have some great albums from Jon Oliva, Chris Caffery, and of course from the ex-vocalist of Savatage, Zak Stevens.



On Circle II Circle’s previous release WATCHING IN SILENCE (2003), the band had a very clear Savatage feel. This time out, the Savatage influences are intact but slightly muted. I for one am glad that the Savatage feel is alive and well! One reason for the slight change in sound is the complete line-up change that occurred between albums. The band that did C2C’s 2003 release, have since left and become Jon Oliva’s band Tage Mahal. Kind of a weird situation, and I’m not sure of the exact details but the end result is that Zak was without a band and had to recruit all new members. With a voice like his, coupled with his background and co-writers from Savatage helping the band, this seems to of not been that hard to do as the music and playing on THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE is every bit as good as that on the first album. I wonder though if the band members feel a bit like studio musicians or hired guns? The reason being, Zak co-writes much of this material with his former Savatage cohorts such as Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery. Either way, the end result for lose looking for Savatage flavored metal is positive.



Opening in a haunting mellow tone that continues for just over 2 minutes, “In This Life”, turns into familiar territory bringing to mind the main riff of the Savatage track “Jesus Saves”. The solo in this one, although not jaw-dropping, has a lot of feeling, something you don’t notice so often with many players. The lead playing on the album is kept in this vein and provides several great moments.



“All That Remains” has some nice vocal melodies, especially around the chorus. “Open Season” is a bit heavier for the band with a dirty sounding riff. “Hollow” starts like it could be some lost riff from TSO. There the similarities end though. “Psycho Motor” is another of the album’s more Savatage sounding tracks. There are not as many on this album, but at least there are some and as such are the ones I’ve latched onto. At 2:42 on the title track, “The Middle of Nowhere”, there is a part that sounds like it must of been written by Jon Oliva as it has that signature build up with piano and ringing chords that you hear all over ‘tage and TSO. Missing from the album are the cool counterpoint vocal moments. This is one of the things I liked most about Zak’s vocal work with Savatage. This facet makes an all too brief appearance on this song as well. I just wish there would have been more of it on the album!



This album nearly passed me by this year, as it didn’t generate much publicity, press or huge fan reaction. So don’t let the album pass you by, because if EDGE OF THORNS / HANDFUL OF RAIN era Savatage is your thing, there is no doubt that you’ll love this stuff. THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE is well worth looking into by Savatage fans any anyone into mid-paced melodic heavy metal.
Track Listing

01. In This Life
02. All That Remains
03. Open Season
04. Holding On
05. Cynical Ride
06. Hollow
07. Psycho Motor
08. Faces In The Dark
09. Middle Of Nowhere
10. Lost (The Cleansing)

Lineup

Zak Stevens (vocals)
Evan Christopher (guitar)
Andrew Lee (guitar)
Mitch Stewart (bass)
Oliver Palotai (keyboards)
Tom Drennan (drums)


Next review: » Circle of Dead Children - PSALMS OF THE GRAND DESTROYER
Previous review: » Circle II Circle - Seasons Will Fall





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