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Circle - Panic

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Artist: Circle

Album: Panic

Label: Ektro

Review date: Jul. 6, 2007

Like a lot of people who cut their teeth on weirdo music by attending late-'80s hardcore-punk shows, I’d amassed a considerable collection of black t-shirts featuring some variation of the skull / band logo / rude expression combo by the time I was 21 years old. Such tribal rock fashions featured pretty regularly in my daily dresscode for years, until the customary and oft-bemoaned life changes steered me towards places and experiences where other forms of upper body coverings (the kind with buttons, for example) were necessary.

Panic is the latest from Finland’s Circle, and it perhaps warrants the wearing of black t-shirts festooned with the band’s “New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal” insignia more than any of their other releases. The album is yet another wild departure from the guitar god wiener-flexing, plaintive piano tapping, and all other descriptive (and in Circle’s case, instantly hackneyed) terms that have been laid at the band’s doorstep by puzzled fans since they first started knocking skulls at the dawn of the '90s. This time out, it’s not even the self-referential “metal” of the NWOFHM tag that’s commanding center stage, but weirdly, a near crystalline aural-snapshot of mid-'80s Bad Brains.

Most comparisons to that planet-shattering D.C. hardcore band are ham-fisted by their very nature, since - let’s be honest, here - no one’s ever really sounded like the Bad Brains. Circle takes the Banned in D.C. theory and matches it with waves of shorted-out electronics, especially on the six of Panic”s 11 tracks that clock in beneath two minutes and which are delivered with furious punk intent. The album is further served by the insert art (a head spinning cut & paste nightmare of angry mobs, riot-outfitted police, and wholesale atomic destruction), and by the lengthy, more cinematic pieces that buttress the terse blasts of reckoning. The chilling vibe is founded on a pair of foreboding instrumental openers, and on the backend, by a sternum-rattling drone that provides all new mental scenery for the term “aftermath.” The vocals, which are incomprehensibly whined and yelped a la I Against I, add a further layer of conviction.

Considered through one lens, it’s easy to perceive Panic as a mutant homage to '80s hardcore punk, and the comically dispassionate world that fueled its popularity. Circle, however, is way too adept and ahead of the pack to engage in such snoozy musical piracy, and with their back catalog bearing testimony, they dispense with the mushy reminiscence and effectively beat yet another genre into oblivion. In an era with so much phony nostalgia and misguided backward-glancing, this throwback seems strangely and refreshingly ahead of the times.

By Mike Lupica

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