Released: 2015, earMUSIC
Savatage refuses to reunite, but fortunately this month I get to review new releases from the two next band’s closest to what we are likely to get to a new Savatage album in 2015. For October, I will feature reviews from Circle II Circle and Chris Caffery, who both keep the Savatage flame burning while offering their own unique styles.
Circle II Circle has quietly become somewhat prolific over the years, REIGN OF DARNKESS being the bands 7th LP. Zakk has been the one constant, though most of the lineup from the last album SEASONS WILL FALL is on board this time as well. Only drummer Adam Sagan is out, and so enters Marcelo Moreira in his place. It is pretty safe at this point to assume that the central tenets of Circle II Circle’s sound remain unchanged from album to album. Sure there are some low tuned guitars on one album, and more aggressive elements on another. A few albums feature two guitars players and on a couple of others there is only one. Does this alter the riffs and approach? Absolutely, but the songwriting is largely unchanged. However, having a mostly intact band from album to album usually leads to some consistency and band chemistry. That is readily evident on REIGN OF DARKNESS.
Promotional press releases and comments from Stevens have unsurprisingly hailed REIGN OF DARKNESS as “overshadowing” everything the band has done before it. Some reviewers have echoed this, calling it the band’s best album ever but do not believe it. REIGN OF DARKNESS is a fine album, but for fans looking for an album that will supplant the first 2 or 3 from the band, well that wait will continue. Nevertheless, ROD represents a nice blending of the band’s early style with their current mindset, even if it takes a while for things to get going. Opening a metal album with an instrumental has become de rigueur with power metal bands, and C II C decides to go that route as well with “Underture”. After this mildly disappointing and predictable decision, the song itself sets up the rest of the album nicely, recalling some of Savatage’s penchant for catchy instrumentals. “Victim Of The Night” provides Moreira the opportunity to showcase his impressive percussion skills, particularly during the active and driving verse with plenty of double kick to boot.
“Untold Dreams” is a highlight with its darkly melodic, clean guitar opening and masterly performance by Stevens, recalling early C II C material. The more modern, heavy edge is represented by “It’s All Over” and “Sinister Love” both relying on heavy chugging and a mid-paced tempo. “Solitary Rain” is the obligatory piano ballad, neither better nor worse than of the others that they have offered. Stevens continues to valiantly try, but is never able to replicate the majestic piano passages Jon Oliva used in Savatage. Songs blending together with little to distinguish one from the other continues to plague the band on REIGN OF DARKNESS, as it has on the last few albums. The production is loud and flat, another common trait of the band’s albums.
All told, ROD offers 11 solid songs that do nothing to damage the C II C name, but also do not offer any surprises or truly memorable tunes. As a fan, I feel that I and many others reviewers have given C II C a pass somewhat because of Stevens continued vocal brilliance, the strength of their earlier albums, and their undeniably engaging live shows. I like and continue to listen to REIGN OF DARKNESS, but I cannot shake the unmistakable feeling that this album has the feel of a band that has already peaked. I fear –while hoping that I am wrong – that serviceable, well-intentioned, but unremarkable albums is what we can expect from them going forward.