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(45:25 / Progrock Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Shadow Circus 6:43 2. Storm Rider 7:50 3. Inconvenient Compromise 6:00 4. Radio People 6:14 5. In the Wake of a Dancing Flame 6:37 6. Journey of Everyman 12:02 LINEUP: John Fontana - guitars; keyboards Matt Masek - bass, cello; b/v David Bobick - vocals Corey Folta - drums Zach Tenorio - piano, keyboards
Prolusion. "Welcome to the Freakroom" is the debut release by America's SHADOW CIRCUS, though this is by no means an all-youngster group. Except for the keyboard player Zach Tenorio, all the band members have an experience of many years behind them, some of them being classically trained musicians.
Analysis. Most of "Welcome to the Freakroom" is symphonic Hard Rock with such a strong vintage aura that the album sounds as if it has arrived right from the heart of the '70s. Shadow Circus's music is notable for those driving bass and drum lines, and has a lot of keyboard patterns too, with the organ and piano figuring more prominently than synthesizers. However, the leading voice in the band is guitarist John Fontana, the primary songwriter, whose playing is both equally clever and tasteful whether he provides flowing melodic passages or switches over to an edgy aggressive style. If you can imagine Pavlov's Dog's Steve Scorfina meeting Nazareth's Manny Charlton, you're already halfway to get the idea. There is generally some common ground between the music of Shadow Circus and both the above outfits, though Procol Harum, Queen, Sweet, Saga, Mahogany Rush (Rush's countrymen by the way), Grand Funk Railroad, Montrose and Styx all from time to time come to mind as well. It would probably be more accurate to say this quintet's sound is collective in character, reminiscent of plenty of '70s hard- and art-rock bands, but what seems to be more important is that it's never derivative, at least overtly so. The six tracks here all feature lyrical content, but since none is shorter than 6 minutes in length, there is usually enough room for the group to show off their instrumental skills. Don't get me wrong; the players are in most cases both active and resourceful, meaning within the songs' vocal sections too, and they don't seem to fall short in that field even on the ballad-like In the Wake of a Dancing Flame, the keyboardist at times sounding like an apprentice of Jon Lord, particularly in the intro. The first three tracks, the guitar- and organ-driven Shadow Circus, Storm Rider and Inconvenient Compromise, all very well suit my concept of progressive Hard Rock with distinct symphonic intonations, though the title number additionally reveals quite a few elements of Circus music (which is only partly linked with David Bobick's theatric vocals), one of its middle movements referring directly to Three Dog Night, while the latter piece stands out for its expansive instrumental landscapes during its second half and some jazzy piano patches as well. From a classic progressive viewpoint however, it would definitely be the 12-minute Journey of Everyman that is the highlight of this recording. More than merely largely instrumental, with plenty of sudden transitions (awaiting the listener nearly everywhere - like traps in a way), this epic is a fascinating tour-de-force into the heyday of Symphonic Progressive. Personally I perceive it to be the same to this album as Did You See Him Cry is to Pavlov's Dog's "At the Sound of the Bell". Comprehend? The musicians' experience is especially evident when they push their solos into different directions, which can be traced on each of the tracks, save for Radio People. While featuring a rather strong folk component, this song reminds me more often of a cross between Radio Ga-Ga by Queen and ZZ Top than a softer version of Skyclad, just as an instance.
Conclusion. Not all the contents of Shadow Circus's debut offering will satisfy the adherents of complex progressive music. But those enjoying classic Hard Rock and / or so-called Pomp Rock will surely find the album to be a worth listen, throughout.
VM: November 2, 2007
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