Released: 2015, earMUSIC
Circle II Circle has quietly become somewhat prolific over the years, REIGN OF DARNKESS being the bands 7th LP. Zak has been the one constant in Circle II Circle and once again the lineup has been shuffled. Marc Pattison and Christian Wentz handle all guitar duties and they collaborated with Zak composing the songs for REIGN OF DARKNESS. Bud Salvetti now occupies the drum seat for the album , though who the tour lineup might be is up for speculation. 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, despite the musical chairs of musicians. 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 and consistent.
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 Salvetti 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.