There is an important observation to be made about the press release that accompanied our promo for Circular Time, which began by claiming that “it’s been nearly twenty years since we last had a full-length album from Ramleh operating in “rock” mode, but the sprawling new double album Circular Time sees these British noise rock legends returning with their most intense work since re-emerging in recent years.” As with any genre tag, there’s some malleability when it comes to defining noise rock; pioneers like The Jesus Lizard perverted a punk foundation, whereas newbies like White Suns pump in more feedback and distortion than coherent riffs. But while Circular Time may not resemble Ramleh’s beginnings as a power electronics group, it’s a bit of a stretch to slap a noise rock label on the album either. This isn’t to dismiss the album in any way, nor to insinuate it doesn’t have any elements of noise (rock). Rather, what Circular Time has to offer is more of a fusion of expansive, droning post rock and distinctly Seventies influenced psychedelia, all of which culminates into an incredible sonic offering.
Circular Times‘ double album status is due more to the album’s length and the constraints of physical music mediums. On a thematic level, the album is a strong, consistent project that tampers with a sonic palette that will generally favor the interest of My Brother the Wind fans. Expansive passages of Can-esque guitar jamming, thumping jazz fusion bass lines and careful but poignant drumming stands firm as the core of Ramleh’s approach, which favors subtle repetition and development in the vein of Earth‘s recent output. Primarily instrumental, vocals surface on only two occasions, with a drum circle chant repeating over “The Tower” and a tortured, weary vocal delivery highlighting “Never Returner,” the album’s distinctly melodic closer which provides a fitting capstone for the trying emotional atmosphere of the album. There isn’t much in the way of variety within many of these tracks and the album as a whole, but that’s not the point of the record. Circular Time is a mood record; and album meant to snag the listener’s attention as soon as “Re-Entry” rolls in and guide them through sublime landscapes that begin to blur and assume control of the psyche.
When Ramleh does explore a different approach, the results are fantastic and arguably the strongest moments on Circular Time. Two complete drones accent the album and epitomize what he genre is supposed to accomplish. “Entropy” creates a gorgeous landscape which feels like it was composed from the residue of Jesu‘s guitar feedback, while “Weird Tyranny” opts for an enormous wall of noise that overwhelms with its pure tremendousness. Retaining the central idea of drone is the spacious “Liberty Bell,” which lands somewhere between Suicide‘s driving, proto-electronica and the more celestial side of Tangerine Dream‘s discography. Its a bold track which captivates with its departure from the album’s normally earthy, psychedelic mood and arrival in an LSD-generated galaxy. But the pinnacle moment of the record is outlier “St John of the Cross,” which takes the album’s core approach to new heights. Glitching guitar opens the track, as if a drone is being tampered with by a toggled killswitch. Suspense continues to build as the track unfolds; it seems too quiet and formative to be the track’s entire focus. After the umpteenth toggle, a swell of instrumentation bursts through the fold, creating pure post rock bliss that comes across as an outtake from ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! if Godspeed You! Black Emperor decided to take a break and channel their favorite Seventies jam bands.
Perhaps there is more truth in the aforementioned press statement than this review’s introduction implies. Receiving the “legend” tag implicitly indicates that a band has been seasoned by time, and if this review’s hefty amount of name-dropping is any indication, Ramleh have absorbed an array of quality influences over the course of their career. Of course, influence is one beast, whereas channeling that influence into a worthwhile and distinct synthesis is another thing entirely. But Ramleh achieve this without question; every moment feels familiar but processes in a way that translates into a fresh and invigorating sonic journey. Circular Time may not be as much of a standard “rock” record as it’s been billed to be, but fact bears not the slightest bit of importance once the final evocative chords slip out from “Never Returner” and the listener is allowed to reflect upon what they’ve just experienced.
Ramleh’s Circular Time gets…