Circle II Circle
Watching in Silence
2003, AFM Records
Circle II Circle, "Watching in Silence"
Here's the quick review: if you're familiar with Zak Stevens and enjoy his work with Savatage, buy this now.
"Watching in Silence" is as good as anything that Savatage has done in recent years, and that's coming from someone who enjoys almost every Savatage disc (although "Hall of the Mountain King" will always be my favorite). None too coincidentally, Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery (of Savatage) have lent their hands to every single track on this disc, so it's pretty much just another Savatage CD with Stevens on vox... just going by another name.
Which begs the question "Why did Zak leave 'Tage in the first place?"
I seem to remember something along the lines of "personal reasons" but my memory sucks and I'm not one for band trivia, so I dunno. Judging by the lyrics here, I suspect Stevens may have found himself at a spiritual crossroads a few years ago and determined that rock 'n' roll wasn't the right path for him... and then several months later he decided to go back to his musical muse. Hard to say - the lyrics are quite ambiguous (to their credit). I guess only Zak himself will be able to answer the question (and he probably has somewhere, I just don't feel like looking up any interviews with him. Yup, I'm a lazy bastard. Sue me).
Now my favorite part, the extended review that most people skip. You bastards! I type my fingers to the bone for you, and you're off to search for Paris Hilton porn vids. Curse you, Paris Hilton and short attention spans!
For those of you unfamiliar with Zak Stevens and/or recent Savatage, I gotta warn you up front: the first album that I owned was Meatloaf's "Bat Out of Hell" and I dug Styx as a kid - which means I've got a soft spot for over-the-top, melodramatic music. I'm pushing 40, so you may not recognize those reference points. To update it a bit: I like stuff like Edguy, Gamma Ray and even Freedom Call... so as you can see, my Metal pedigree may be too tainted by happiness and joy for your personal tastes. If you don't like the concept of "Broadway Metal" or "Disney Metal", avoid latter day Savatage (which basically means anything after "Hall of the Mountain King," for those of you keeping score) and Circle II Circle - because they love immersing themselves in musical pretension. It's totally a love or hate thing, either you get a kick out of their bombastic style or it makes you wanna kick their heads in for playing it.
So if you're still with me (trust me, that Paris Hilton vid ain't worth the download), why should you buy this? Well, it boils down to the talent involved, and there's alotta talent on evidence here.
Stevens has a fine voice, he's got a solid range and utilizes it well. He mostly stays in the mid-range and mixes both clean and gritty vox effectively. Zak is one of the few vocalists in hard rock that understands that his pipes are an instrument, and appropriately he takes advantage of what he can do. He doesn't sound prissy when he sings "pretty" and he can really belt it out when he wants to. While Stevens does stay in the mids for most the verses, he can get up there to make the choruses hit the emotional jackpot that they strive for. So, dude can sing.
Musically the group is tight, I don't know any of the cats in the band, but they're all solid. No complaints to be made about their playing ability, it's schooled and efficient. As I said earlier, the songs were written by Oliva and Caffery, and these guys are musical architects. They know how to craft songs that build into big, solid structures - from soft acoustic foundations to heavy hitting, flying buttresses of metallic bliss. Had I only studied architecture, I'd have all kinds of clever analogies to make. Alas, I did not.
Sometimes the lads hit the jackpot and create true musical monoliths, and I'd say about half the tracks here meet that mark, while the others don't fall too far short. Yeah, like a gothic church, their approach is telegraphed; you know when the "big" chorus is going to come in, and you know when the emotive one bar solo is gonna erupt that gives the song a little push over the emotional edge - but still, you can't help but appreciate how things are pieced together. Acoustic guitar and piano are used to create somber moods that eventually burst into the gigantic, impassioned, sing-along choruses. No surprises, but it's still good fun.
Another advantage that this disc has is it's a bit heavier than Zak's last disc with Savatage. There are plenty of nice, mid-tempo riffs with a Thrash vibe. I've always enjoyed music that juxtaposes acoustic instrumentation with heavy guitars, and that's all over this CD. There's plenty of individuality between the ten tracks as well, which is always a good thing. Always!
In short, this is solid songcraft created by talented musicians who have been doing this for a long, long time. If you can handle the melodrama, there's plenty to enjoy. Production is clean and the mix is fine, so there's just a bit more polish to appreciate. As mentioned, the lyrics are intriguing - and thankfully they're included in the booklet. While Stevens is easy to understand, I still prefer to read along upon first listen, just to be sure.
It's good to hear Zak again. Hopefully he's worked out his inner demons and will keep cranking out the records, although it will be truly interesting to see if he ever breaks away from the Savatage umbilical chord.
Okay, go download that Hilton vid now. You were good and read the whole thing, you've earned your bazillionaire porn dessert.
Out of Reach