Magic Circle, Magic Circle: Stone Eyes Looking

After earning some measure of viral doomly acclaim by releasing their debut single on YouTube, Boston-based five-piece Magic Circle issue their first proper full-length on CD through Armageddon Shop’s eponymous in-house label. The self-titled offering contains the two songs that made such a digital splash – those being “Scream Evil” and closer “The Magic Circle/Cloven in Two” – as well as four other cuts, topping out at a vinyl-ready 41:16. Vinyl also seems to be on the band’s mind in terms of the album’s structure, which finds the tracklisting split at its halfway point with each set of three songs ended by a longer, slash-inclusive title, the first being “The Greatest Escape/White Shores” (7:10) and the second the already-noted finale (7:40). Similarly, each side begins with a track on which frontman Brendan Radigan sings over a guitar solo, the opener “Winter Light” and “Scream Evil.” Those aren’t the only times Radigan does that, there’s also second track “Rapture” where it’s notable, but the chaotic swirl it creates – particularly late into “Winter Light” – is a standout element. Radigan comes out of Boston’s hardcore scene, namely the bands Mind Eraser and The Rival Mob, and Magic Circle’s drummer, Q, is also of Clouds and Doomriders, while guitarist/principle songwriter Chris Corry and bassist Justin De Tore can be found in Death Evocation (the latter is also formerly of NYC grinders Taste of Fear). The band is completed by guitarist Dan Ducas, but particularly because of Radigan’s pedigree, I have a hard time not likening Magic Circle’s debut to that of Brooklyn-based Maple Forum alums, Kings Destroy. Indeed, the album bears some of that out in stylistic commonality with Kings Destroy’s And the Rest Will Surely Perish, though Magic Circle’s Magic Circle delves further into genre with an affinity for Ducas and Corry’s guitars crossing over the line where trad doom meets NWOBHM; call it a Witchfinder General or Pagan Altar influence if you want, I don’t think I’d be the first to saddle them with either. Still, with a somewhat similar circumstance and aesthetic, the comparison to Kings Destroy circa 2010 seems fair. Radigan’s vocals add a drama that enhances the musical dynamic, and the band locks in familiar grooves that they’re nonetheless able to make their own. In the end, perhaps in part because I’m so used to traditional doom that plods eternal, Magic Circle feels short at its 41-minute stopping point.

That’s an asset for the self-produced affair, which still boasts no shortage of plod, from Corry and Ducas’ riffy lumber to the deep-toned thud in Q’s drums. Magic Circle do well to shift tempo though, remaining thick but not idle, at various points throughout the album, including “Winter Light,” the longest track at 8:40 (immediate points). As a launch, “Winter Light” is especially well-chosen for its repetitive verse and memorable chorus, both solid hooks offset by a purposefully disorienting break in the second half. Following that, the aforementioned solo section topped by Radigan comes across as an out-of-nowhere rush both of pace and energy, and it winds up making the song and engaging the listener on a genuinely unexpected level as the final lyrics are delivered, “Winter Light is all that I see/Winter light is shining on me,” before the guitars take final hold. “Rapture,” which follows, is the shortest track on Magic Circle at 5:14, and tries for something similar, but is obviously more compressed in its take, with a more immediately motoring riff building tension paid off in the chorus, Q, opening up the drums for a stretch before transitioning on his snare back into the head-down thrust of the verse. Two songs in and Magic Circle have unveiled two catchy hooks, and a bit of shred under Radigan in the second chorus of “Rapture” goes a long way toward backing up some of the opener’s intensity as it leads into a brief, mournful dual-guitar solo. Corry and Ducas prove quick to harmonize throughout the record, but Magic Circle don’t necessarily dwell on a single idea long enough to be redundant more than they want to be, and continuing their well-constructed track-to-track flow, “The Greatest Escape/White Shores” cuts back the force and moves into classically doomed sway. The Gates of Slumber are an obvious reference point here, as they are for a lot of the newer old school, but Magic Circle keep their own spin on their sound, Q filling the spaces where the riffs stop with organic-sounding tom work while Radigan shifts between a quieter approach in the verse and a chorus of semi-melodic shouts. Where the first two cuts had marked switches in tempo, “The Greatest Escape/White Shores” keeps largely to the same chugging middle pace, seeming to pick up in its very last throes, but suddenly ending cold instead, what might have been a Sabbathian extended solo transition cut short.

Such as it is on a CD, side B starts with “Scream Evil,” which makes for a strong opener in its own right, sharing some of “Winter Light”’s plod and formative rumble. By now, Magic Circle have more or less established the course of their album, but they do well within their formula as they present it here, Radigan once again topping the guitar solo on “Scream Evil” with Q’s formidable crash behind and then out front, though if it’s one of the band’s earlier tracks, I think that shows in how comparatively straightforward it is in relation even to “Rapture,” which offers some of the same ideas musically and structurally in a more-developed package. The penultimate “Conquering Noct’urnity” (spelled “Nocternity” in the disc’s liner) finds more low end presence from De Tore and a potent riffy sway. For anyone who heard the band’s prior single, it might seem like “Conquering Noct’urnity” is overshadowed by “Scream Evil” before it or “The Magic Circle/Cloven in Two” following, but aside from some of the most satisfying bass work, the track also proves a highlight for Radigan, who stretches his approach to fit the vibe of the music – dark as ever but more forlorn – while also affirming Magic Circle’s songwriting prowess, stepping back to let the solo take hold before moving forward again for the final verse. De Tore’s quality showing continues into “The Magic Circle/Cloven in Two,” as he seems to stand up more to the guitars on the two parts of the closer as much as he did throughout the entirety of the rest of the album. With a more discernible break between the two parts – that is, a slash that’s prominent in the audio as well as in the title – than that of “The Greatest Escape/White Shores,” Magic Circle’s closer ends in full-on NWOBHM swirling righteousness, an instrumental jam that sounds like it could just as easily keep going as fade out. The verses preceding offer “A National Acrobat”-esque grooving as well met as it is recognizable, but as ever, they make something familiar their own. The same might be said of their debut as a whole, because for all the structures resting on structures – one can even see correspondence between the Sabbath ritualizing in “The Greatest Escape/White Shores” and “The Magic Circle/Cloven in Two” – Magic Circle is working from a time-tested stylistic base. The album’s greatest success, then, is how much Magic Circle make that base – that’s not to say “formula” – their own, though I wouldn’t want to take anything away from Corry/Radigan’s songwriting inadvertently, since these songs stand up on more than just a conceptual level. Whatever the response might have been to the initial audio the band put into underground consciousness, rest assured the full-length marks a more definitive arrival point. It’s where they go from here that has me even more hooked.

Armageddon Shop

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