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Higher Circles (USA) - 2002 - "Ritual One"
(51 min, 'Second Thought Music')

1. Premonition 1:12
2. Introvert 1:58
3. Some Empty Heaven 6:44
4. Blur 5:26
5. Second Thought 6:38
6. Eleven Seconds 5:21
7. Abstrusus 4:19
8. A Really Weird Rest 3:20
9. Patch 1:05
10. Stigmata 6:09
11. Samurai With a Gun 6:51
12. Beyond 2:11

All music written & arranged
by Windrose, Moore, & Geer,
except 1 & 12 by Moore.
All lyrics by Windrose,
except 5 by Windrose & Moore,
& 6 by Windrose, Moore, & Geer.


Norman Windrose - guitars; lead vocals
Steve Moore - guitars, bass; keyboards; vocals
Ken Geer - drums & percussion

Produced by Higher Circles.
Engineered, mixed, & mastered
by Brett Tyson at "Studio B", Campbell, CA. 

Prologue. The California's band Higher Circles was formed in 1983. Their debut EP "The Payment" was released in 1990. "Ritual One" is the first full-length album by the band. So, let's see what music dwells in Higher Circles.

The Album. Except for three short pieces, namely Premonition, Beyond, and Patch (tracks 1, 12, & 9 respectively), I can say that on the whole, "Ritual One" is an album of a unified stylistic concept. In that way, I have to describe the exceptive tracks first. Both the opening and closing tracks of the album contain only the slow passages of a few synthesizers, accompanied by various effects. Nevertheless, these pieces sound original, especially the last of them. As for Patch, it is really kind of a vocal patch on a dress of emptiness. Well, all nine of the remaining tracks were created within the framework of a unified stylistics, which, on the whole, represents nothing else but the heavier and, at the same time, a bit simplified version of the music of Rush. However, there are no without exceptions as well. While the contents of two instrumental compositions, Introvert and A Really Weird Rest (2 & 8) can be examined in a general context, Stigmata and Samurai With a Gun (10 & 11) must be described separately. (In fact, though, they look like a monolithic piece.) All seven of the compositions that are located between the first and the last four tracks of the album are structurally similar among themselves. Stylistically, all of them are heavily influenced by the music of Rush (circa "Permanent Waves"). Also, it seems that Jacob's Ladder is the band's all-time favorite. Some of the arrangements that are featured on Second Thought and Eleven Seconds (5 & 6) are really second-hand, as both of these songs feature the open borrowings from Jacob's Ladder. Owing to the obvious stylistic resemblance between Rush and Higher Circles, it would've been much better if Steve Moore would've been the lead vocalist on this album. Here, Steve sings not that often. However, his rather raw voice sounds very original. Norman Windrose sings for the most part not unlike Geddy Lee. Fortunately, all five of the remaining tracks that are located in the middle of the album contain some of the band's original ideas as well. Which makes the overall musical palette of the core of the album slightly more diverse than that on the second-hand tracks (5 & 6). The guitar riffs that Higher Circles used on this album (in general) are heavier and stronger than those in the music of Rush. On the other hand, the arrangements that I hear on all of those core tracks lack the changes of tone and mood. So they're much more predictable than those on any of Rush's albums that were released in their best years (1976 to 1985). The parts of synth-bass don't impress me at all. A real bass player is what the band definitely needs. Surprisingly enough, the last one fourth of the album turned out to be a real culmination of it. Stigmata and Samurai With a Gun (10 + 11) are not only original (i.e. free of any distinct influences), like the last track of the album, Beyond, but also truly wonderful, complex and intriguing. These are the songs of a true Classic Progressive. (I, however, like to regard them as a single, monolithic and epic, 13-minute composition.) Structurally, they're in the same vein as all of those songs that I've depicted before. In other words, the alternation of heavy (metallic) and soft (symphonic) structures is typical for both of these songs as well. However, the vocals (especially those that were whispered and screamed) and the instrumental arrangements that are featured on them are outstanding by all 'progressive' means.

Summary. Remembering of various unoriginal albums, I can assert that "Ritual One" by Higher Circles is way better than the opuses by hundreds of the Marillion and IQ wannabes. All three of the last tracks on the band's first full-length album clearly show that Higher Circles are capable enough to create an original and high-quality Progressive Rock. In fact, this is a promising band. They only should not forget that the originality is the main trump of any true artist of any genre. Back to this album, it has a solid commercial potential and, in my view, should get a large audience. The true fans of Rush, who, as I assume, just cannot enjoy the latest albums by Rush (beginning with "Presto", 1989, though, perhaps, with the only exception of "Counterparts", 1993), will be especially pleased by "Ritual One".

VM. May 8, 2002

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