Higher Circles - Ritual One

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Second Thought Music
Catalog Number: STM001CD
Format: CD
Total Time: 51:22:00

They say you can't judge a book by its cover ? and that's pretty much true. You may get a fabulous book cover, but a shoddy book; and you may have a crappy cover and a masterpiece behind it. With that in mind, I was expecting something quite different on Higher Circles' Ritual One. I was expecting something with some old world elements, maybe something that had hints of Italian prog or something, though I knew the band were from California.

What is behind the cover here is something that very much resembles what might have happened if Pendragon and IQ collaborated on an album together, with a dash of early Marillion and Rush thrown in. The dominant ingredient I hear is Pendragon, though the band are big fans of Rush. Now, you'd think I'd be salivating at that prospect, being a fan of that style of music (among others). But, I'm afraid I'm not. And what holds me back from speaking about this album with exuberant tones are the thin and reedy vocals of Norman Windrose (who also plays guitar). I think the effect he might have been trying for was slightly ethereal, but it just doesn't work for me. They're just too dry, too raspy. As if Nick Barrett had laryngitis while recording this ? maybe Windrose did. And I guess it'd be okay, but I find him just a little off key (at least, some notes make me wince). The other two members of the trio are Steve Moore on guitar, keyboards, bass and vocals, and Ken Geer on drums and percussion.

Musically there are some interesting textures. The album opens quite dramatically, though subtlety, with "Premonition," moves to the beefier "Introvert," which features some organ like keys, heavy, Rush like guitar work, and heavy percussion (which later takes on a few Pink Floyd-like tones). Everything is fine, a mix of hard prog and "neo-prog" until um ? Norman begins singing in "Some Empty Heaven." It's the tone not the style? there are just some who do this loud whisper much better (Hogarth, for example). But, I like what he's trying to accomplish here. He sounds best when he gets a little aggressive during "Abstrusus," itself an aggressive track ? within this genre. Don't expect a metal aggressiveness. Hmm ? more like "Fugazi" (though given that Steve Moore provides additional or backing vocals?maybe it's not Windrose). This Fishiness returns with "Patch" (think the whispered section of "Script For A Jester's Tear").

Ah, but the music. I love this musically. There is an all too brief solo early in the track "Blur" that is simply lovely. You will hear more Floyd echoes (no pun intended) here, however brief 00 think "Shine On You Crazy Diamond". And guitar chimes nicely on the intro to "Second Thought." Structurally, this is not unlike early Spock's Beard. In fact, this something that could have been on The Light. (Aside from Windrose vocals, not to keep harping on it). The instrumental "A Really Weird Rest" with some slightly parpy keys thrown in and a sort Celtic rock/Tempest feel about it without being overly Celtic in nature. Floyd comes back for the dark and often bombastic "Stigmata" (The Wall period). You'll hear the Rush influence in this piece too during the long instrumental section ("Jacob's Ladder") of "Samurai With A Gun." (which ends a bit like "Hey You" (echo the last word through fade?) The album ends with the haunting, ethereal instrumental "Beyond."

The artwork of the sleeve, since I started out talking about the cover (sort of), is quite nice. There's a moody darkness to it, especially with the ghostly body on the cover. But the text is nigh inscrutable, the fanciful font is far too fanciful.

Truthfully, Higher Circles rely quite a bit on mixing in existing textures from the bands they emulate, consciously or unconsciously. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially for a debut, but it does defy the term "progressive." While I feel like I'm being cruel when I say something like this, they would do good to find a dedicated vocalist for their next album and let Windrose concentrate on guitar and lyrics. There's a great deal of potential in this trio, as evidenced by the music but they loose half a point with me because? well, you know?

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

Norman Windrose - guitars, vocals
Steve Moore - guitars, keyboards, bass, vocals
Ken Geer - drums and percussion

Ritual One (2001)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: January 12th 2003
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.highercirclesmusic.com
Hits: 1314
Language: english


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