Circle II Circle: Reign of Darkness review

Despite appearing on four studio and one live album with Savatage, being on all five Trans-Siberian Orchestra albums, as well as countless tours with both, an album from Machines of Grace (his side project with fellow TSO & Savatage alumni Jeff Plate) and singing on all of the previous Circle II Circle releases, of which there are six, vocalist Zak Stevens is somehow not yet a household name. Even more shocking is the fact that he is not one of the most in demand singers in music today. A fact that Stevens, guitarists Christian Wentz & Bill Hudson, keyboardist Henning Wanner, bassist Mitch Stewart and drummer Marcelo Moreira hope to change with Circle II Circle’s seventh studio album & third for earMUSIC entitled Reign of Darkness. After the sweeping TSO inspired intro “Over-Underture” the keyboard hook of “Victim of the Night” will have visions of Michael Myers dancing in your head and haunting your mind until the brutal breakdown and blistering solo replace them with even more terrifying images to keep you up at night. Elsewhere, heavier cuts like “It’s All Over” and “Deep Within” are fueled by hurricane force riffs, chugging grooves and extensive flourishes of double kick, while “One More Day” finds the band worshiping at the altar of the almighty Black Sabbath, more specifically Tony Iommi and their classic song “Into the Void.” To show there really isn’t any genre or style beyond their creative grasp, there are even shades of Cliff Burton and The Black Album era Metallica in the classically infused bass lines and monster riffs & solos hiding just beneath the surface of “Untold Dreams.” While “Taken Away” combines the skull crushing riffs of Facelift era Alice In Chains with the vintage solos of Judas Priest and Symphonic & Power Metal undertones to become one of the album’s true highlights. Further expanding on the idea that there’s truly nothing they can’t do, the heavy bottom end and primal drumming at the beginning of “Sinister Love” recalls the heavier side of 90’s Alt Rockers Saigon Kick, while “Somewhere” sounds as though it was ripped right from Dream Theater’s Awake or Falling Into Infinity albums. Saving the very best for last and to keep all those fans just dying for a reunion happy, the band goes full on Savatage on songs such as “Ghost of the Devil” and closer “Solitary Rain.” By their epic conclusion, diehards will be wishing for new music or at the very least a tour from the metal legends more than ever, especially after their triumphant return to the stage this year at Wacken Open Air. Here’s the bottom line. Reign of Darkness is arguably Circle II Circle’s most compelling and absorbing effort since the early brilliance of Watching in Silence or The Middle of Nowhere. Rating: 8.5 out of 10 -Eric Hunker