Boston doomers Magic Circle release their second album, Journey Blind, Nov. 20 on 20 Buck Spin. A dual-guitar five-piece, the band was a force to be reckoned with even before the release of their 2013 self-titled debut (review here), having garnered a formidable response to their initial single, Scream Evil/Lighting Her Fire, both online and in the physical realm with a 7″. The self-titled was light on frills but heavy on dark atmospherics and weighted riffing, and Journey Blind‘s seven tracks/45 minutes follow suit in that regard, but add stylistic nuance in the form of a decided lean toward ’80s-era NWOBHM metallurgy, taking cues on the opening title-track from Judas Priest fist-pumping chug in the guitars of Chris Corry and Dan Ducas, unconcerned with genre boundaries as it motors forward on a groove thickened by Justin DeTore‘s bass and propelled by the drumming of Q, topped off with classically soaring vocals from Brendan Radigan.
Their take on the sound is righteous and unabashed, and while Journey Blind is unmistakably different from what they were doing on Magic Circle, it makes sense as a next step. “Journey Blind” is both the opener and the longest track (immediate points) at 8:26, and does much work in setting the tone for what follows, but though it’s shorter, “The Damned Man” takes hold with pre-thrash intensity and vocal layering in its hook on the way to a surprising slowdown and build-up, a breakdown riff stomped out at around four minutes in that becomes the bed for soloing and a final verse before ending — wait for it — acoustic.
How any of that makes any fucking sense whatsoever, I haven’t the foggiest, but it does. In context, the acoustic finish of “The Damned Man” is as much intro for “A Ballad for the Vultures” as it is its own outro, but as a standalone it shows how willing Magic Circle are to bend the rules of verse-chorus to suit their whims, and that they can do it and not have a track fall apart. They’re due for a doom-out, and “A Ballad for the Vultures” delivers one in its first half, still tinged with Iron Maiden-style grandiosity and Dio-style poise, a midsection break serving as transition to a faster, more swinging movement of furious guitars and an ongoing sense of build until its unbridled conclusion. They even slow down in there, but by the end, they’re at their most raging.
The subsequent “Lightning Cage” is maybe more ’70s than ’80s in its central riff early on, but the difference works out to be trivial with as much effort as Magic Circle put into making it their own. A meatier nod emerges in an extended bridge, but again, they end fast, reveling in the play of one tempo off another in a centerpiece track that’s the shortest inclusion at 4:19 but a standout moment all the same for its efficiency and the energy of its delivery. Already to this point, Magic Circle have galloped and stomped, they’ve howled and marauded, and they’ve torn into classic metal without giving up the atmospheric heft of their debut. More than a little impressive. They’ve grown — quickly — and remained cohesive working through a variety of structures. The final three songs of Journey Blind, which may or may not be side B, depending on where the vinyl puts “Lightning Cage,” present another turn, this time into more Sabbathian territory.
A doom band sounding like Sabbath? Not exactly news, but across “Ghosts of the Southern Front,” “Grand Deceivers” and the closing “Antediluvian,” Magic Circle seem to be on a campaign to redeem Tony Iommi‘s work post-Ian Gillan, and they make a convincing argument, whether it’s the steady pacing of “Ghosts of the Southern Front” or the highlight bass work DeTore brings to “Antediluvian.” And since this era of the genre progenitors coincides with the NWOBHM coming of age and even the birth of the thrash movement, it also makes sense in terms of the timeline in which Magic Circle are working throughout that they’d dip into such an influence.
The final three songs are almost an album unto themselves, but the straight-backed posture of “Grand Deceivers,” the chug and chorus of “Ghosts of the Southern Front” and the speedier takeoff that closes out “Antediluvian”‘s even-earlier Sabbathism mesh with Journey Blind‘s first four cuts in a way that maintains the flow of the record front to back. A considerable momentum is built across Journey Blind‘s span that makes it a quick listen, but the substance that Magic Circle put on offer isn’t to be discounted. Their second full-length outing goes beyond simply being a follow-up and pushes them into new stylistic ground that they conquer with boldness and confidence.
I have the pleasure today of hosting “The Damned Man” as a track premiere. Find it below, followed by more on the album, and please enjoy:
20 Buck Spin will round out its roster for 2015 with the release of Journey Blind, the triumphant sophomore LP from Boston-based quintet MAGIC CIRCLE. This year has already been the most productive and expansive year for the label, but Journey Blind will fit into your parents’ unwavering classic rock collection the same as it could be the hottest thing on your younger cousin’s latest playlist.
Following their self-titled debut which was well-received in metal and hardcore circles, MAGIC CIRCLE returns with forty-five minutes of dominant, pure heavy metal on Journey Blind, a record which sees the outfit doing what they do, but doing it even better. Self-produced and recorded by the band at guitarist CC’s The Pain Cave, the record surges with the viscosity a team of top-tier producers would be proud to back.
The cover art for Journey Blind is an unused piece dating to 1979 by legendary artist Joe Petagno (Motorhead, Mammoth Grinder, Autopsy) which has been properly fitted to this modern ripper which could have been captured three decades ago yet booms with a refreshed spirit to guide today’s misguided youth back to their unbeknownst roots. Devotees to the scriptures immotalized by 1980s Black Sabbath, 1980s Trouble, Pagan Altar, Saint Vitus and the like should not pass this one by.
20 Buck Spin will make MAGIC CIRCLE’s Journey Blind a reality on November 20th in CD and digital formats, with the vinyl to follow in mid-December or whenever the pressing plants can get their shit together.