It’s hard to remember, but Circles were once considered at the forefront of the tech-metal/djent explosion that took place around beginning of the decade. The band’s name was once frequently mentioned alongside the likes of Tesseract and Periphery. Yet, while they’ve remained a frequent feature on the Australian live circuit, the Melbournians have largely slipped from the wider consciousness in recent years. I’ve spoken before about the importance of momentum in a band’s trajectory, and it seems Circles are yet another band who’ve fallen victim to the line-up and label issues that have stunted the development of so many of their kind. The Last One is their first album in five years, as well as being their first since their debut full-length Infinitas (2014). It also sees the band returning to the fore featuring a substantially revamped roster; with relatively-new guitarist Ben Rechter taking over vocal duties from the departed Perry Kakridas. Where Circles have the edge over so many other bands who have faced similar setbacks, however, is in an outstandingly-crafted record that redefines the band’s sound, while also reigniting the enthusiasm they once enjoyed.
If djent hasn’t all but died out in the time since Circles released Infinatas, then it’s certainly settled down and become a more defined beast. Delivering a similar outing to their debut, or the earlier Compass EP (2011) would likely fail to drum up much excitement these days. Luckily for them (and us), Circles have pivoted their sound more toward the alt-prog sound once popularised by Karnivool and many of their countrymen—what I am choosing to call “Aus-prog”—which has lately seen somewhat of a resurgence, perhaps largely due to the hype drummed up in recent times by scene heavyweights Caligula’s Horse. What Circles are offering up on The Last One isn’t anywhere near as intricate or expansive as what the Brisbanites concocted with their last stellar release: last year’s much lauded In Contact (2017). Nevertheless, the broader melodiscism that defines that sound, combined with the heavy bottom-end carried over from their original direction make for a compellingly potent concoction.
Rechter’s voice is a perfect fit for this new direction. Although his voice is far more conventional than Kakridas‘s, his soothing, lower register aligns with and accentuates perfectly the more moody compositions of their latest release. Yet, for it’s notably more subdued direction, The Last One is also arguably the heaviest Circles record to date, or at least the one most pronounced in its heaviness. The opening distorted scream and open, low-end notes of “Breaker” are only the most pronounced of a pervasive heaviness that populates the entire record, and it’s final percussive break even goes so far as to bring to mind early Monuments. “Dream Sequence” is another chug-heavy offering which sees sees them combining the traditional kinetic djent bounce with a floater, Aus-prog atmosphere, and each track provides some welcome punctuation amid a record that might otherwise have run the risk of fading into the background.
The above judgement is based more upon what this kind of genre usually inspires, rather than what Circles offer throughout the rest of the record. Each of The Last One‘s 10 tracks both self-contained and wildly dynamic, and the record itself is perfectly sequenced to enable easy passage while navigating its many peaks and valleys. There hasn’t been a record in this style with as much immediate appeal as The Last One since Dead Letter Circus‘s debut This is the Warning (2010), and the added heaviness and intensity Circles bring to the table sets them apart as their own darker, more explosive unit. In many ways this latest Circles record is reminiscent of Tesseract’s recent fourth effort, Sonder. Both albums represent more streamlined and arguably simplified entries in their respective band’s discography. Yet, where Sonder impresses only in bouts, while failing to fully recapture the promise of that band’s earlier material, Circles’ latest constitutes and unprecedented high point in the quartet’s waning career, which once again suggests a brighter future ahead.
Circles seemed more or less done for in the lead up to this record. However, their second full-length effort sees them return to the fold as a much metamorphosed, though still wholly exuberant outfit. The Last One isn’t pushing any boundaries, but it occupies a space at the intersection of two over-saturated and often uninflected genres, while taking full, refreshing advantage of the appeals of each. The album prides itself on its immediacy, but there’s a complexity and gracefulness to the record that reveals itself over repeated listens, adding up to something ultimately undeniable.
The Last One is out August 31 through Australia’s Wild Thing Records and internationally via Season of Mist. Catch the re-vamped Circles supporting Tesseract in Australia next month, or across Europe backing-up Caligula’s Horse throughout Eurpoe during October and early November. Details and pre-orders available through the band’s website.