Circle Tulikoira

[Ektro; 2005]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: n.w.o.b.h.m., krautrock, programmatic, minimalist
Others: Can, Plastic People of the Universe, Goblin, Neu!

Circle are a Finnish group that, aside from occasional hard rock and metal inspired freakouts, focus on very controlled, trance-inducing music that unfolds over a long period of time. The artwork on Tulikoira looks more menacing than the average Circle art, which usually seems only mildly haunting. Here, we see an aggressive looking man with the album title etched into his forehead. The blood coming from the letters adds a nice touch, not to mention the slick new font they're using. Open up the liner notes and the letters "NWOFHM" take up the entire size of the two pages. These initials are a take-off on what actually stands for the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which included bands like Venom, Saxon, and Def Leppard (very early Def Leppard!). While the music begins misleadingly with a couple minutes of dark drones, chanting, and guitar-swelling atmosphere, a quick drum roll washes all the ambience away and in comes a flood of intense metal riffage. Suddenly, all the evil artwork is completely justified. Thick keyboards, effects, and tape manipulation keep their music psychedelic, but there is still no escaping that this is a heavy metal album, and it should appeal to a very wide variety of candle burning folks.

The first of the four songs, "Rautakäärme," feels like music for the opening credits of a dark séance. It is a constant battle between a beatless ambience reminiscent of a dark dungeon and the most aggressive metal riffs Circle has ever made. Their patented feeling of a cosmic hippie commune is completely lost. The second song, "Tulilintu," is the shortest and most straight ahead homage to NWOBMH on the whole album, in which singer Mika Rättö shrieks with the greatest importance while the rest of the band urgently plows through minimalist metal riffs. Even the recording quality has the polished glimmer of 25 years ago. After the black leather and tattered denim carnage of the first two songs, Circle settles into more familiar territory with a menacing, yet hypnotic groove, filled with soft spoken word vocals that sound like they're being whispered directly into your ear. The rest of the album continues down a path of psychedelic bliss, interweaving with a style of metal that is refreshing to hear during a year otherwise dominated by stoner sludge. Over the course of the album, they create a seamless mix of heavy psych rock and fast metal. By the end of the last song (which at over 24 minutes is over half the album) the distinction between the two is no longer clear, and Circle achieves a feeling of time being completely lost, not unlike Pärson Sound and other rock bands obsessed with minimalism.

When any group is trying for the feel of infinite time and space, they are providing us with an unusual challenge. It takes a lot of attention, participation, and time on our part, and it's rare when an album aiming at infinity doesn't involve me having to consciously succumb to the music. Circle takes care of this by using heavy metal as ear bait and a catalyst to get to something more abstract and cerebral later on. But Circle have always had a remarkable knack for seduction and making the strangest sounds very accessible. Playing in a place where time has no value is their greatest strength, and they're constantly finding new ways to arrive there. When I say constantly, I mean they are extremely prolific and could have a new album completed before you finish reading this. As great and hypnotic as Circle can get, this is a rare album for them with no meandering moments. While it's never been enough to ruin an album, Tulikoira is never stagnant. Every moment on this album is important and every sound serves a purpose. I don't mean to speak against the art of recording every single jam and interesting sound (and I suspect that they're not even releasing a third of what they're recording), but I praise Tulikoira for not having any tireless jamming and being one of their most concise and focused efforts. When a band pays homage to a particular kind of music, it often sounds over-stylized, phony, or like something is cheapened. Although this album has such strong ties to an era gone by, it never comes across as forgery or kitsch and feels more like a unique effort than any tribute show.

1. Rautakäärme
2. Tulilintu
3. Berserk
4. Puutiikeri