Circus Maximus: Mats Haugen (guitar); Espen Storo (keyboards); Glen Cato Mollen (bass guitar); Truls Haugen (drums); Michael Eriksen.
Personnel: Michael Eriksen (vocals).
Audio Mixer: Tommy Hansen.
Recording information: Lionheart Studios, Oslo, Norway; Noisegate Studios; Toproom Studios, Roa, Norway.
The easy -- call it the cop-out -- description of Norway's Circus Maximus would be to say that they essentially offer accomplished, melodic prog metal in the Dream Theater vein, only delivered with a distinctly European aesthetic. Of course things are never so simple when discussing the dense and complex array of sounds necessary for sculpting this sort of music; and, therefore, the presence of DT's soaring vocals, heroic guitars, aggressive synthesizers, and a busy rhythm section merely begin to paint the full picture. There's much more here than initially meets the ears: first and foremost being Circus Maximus' clear appreciation of more straightforward AOR and hard rock songwriting hallmarks, which, for all of the band's fleet-fingered displays, ultimately helps sharpen their songwriting. As such, standout tracks like "Sin," "Alive," and "The Prophecy" capture a perfect balance of hooks and shocks, while the lone power ballad, "Silence From Angels Above," fairs somewhat poorly for going a bit over the top -- though that too is of course to be expected. Excepting the instrumental "Biosfear," full-fledged technical showboating is surprisingly restrained, all things considered, and perhaps the final endorsement to be made about the group's talents is that monolithic numbers such as the ten-minute "Glory of the Empire" and the 19-minute title track (showing shades of ELP, and numerous other influences) hardly feel any longer than the more conventionally sized offerings. (OK, maybe the last, which, as one might expect, actually contains more than a few songs stitched together -- sometimes uncomfortably so.) In any case, it's impossible to categorize The 1st Chapter as anything but an absolute tour de force -- particularly considering that it's the first attempt by a new band. Should Circus Maximus be able to replicate such high-caliber results for the second chapter, they could very well become standard-bearers of their generation. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia