Released: 2005, AFM Records
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.