Magic Circle – Departed Souls (2019) REVIEW

How do you sleep at night, anymore? Do you feel guilty for the polluted air you breathe, the piling trash you create, the unsustainable food you eat from the oceans you poison? Do you flinch when see the picked-clean skulls of your fellow man as you close your eyes at night? Death surrounds us, denial entombs us, and yet we refuse to march in our own funeral with even a hint of grace. Humanity is reduced to packs of corporeal geist in various stages of grief for the end, haunting a world that’d collapsed under the weight of our coffins decades ago. Corridors of worship fill with machine gun fire, the obituaries of vital influence busy the tied hands of the long-muted journalist, and what beauty left on Earth rests in the peace of death’s stone gardens. Down in the dark and moldy basement of our end times what is left of sagging modern man is a firestorm of erratic lazing neuron; We dream of hope feebly, all the while dying an unwilling death atop the corpse of duly crushed spirituality. With the cobwebs flailing against spore and dust-grimed structural beam the gasping lungs of Massachusetts doom metal druids Magic Circle fill with the death of our world and wail out transcendent conviction, a truly impassioned and powerful bout of existential dread that only heavy metal could provide.

As true to form, tasteful and effective as they were/are in their hardcore punk (The Rival Mob, Mind Eraser, Mental, No Tolerance, etc.), extreme metal (Innumerable Forms, Torture Chain) and heavy/doom metal-adjacent (Doomriders, Sumerlands, Stone Dagger) projects throughout the years the membership of Magic Circle appear nigh infallible in their approach as Boston’s finest traditional doom metal music. Formed in 2011 the lightning that’d strike upon the release of Magic Circle‘s self-titled debut in early 2013 couldn’t have been predicted lest you were a dedicated east coast doom-goer. The album landed in my hands early February that year thanks to a friends recommendation off the back of my praise for early Ice Dragon and I’ve been a cheerleader for this band ever since “Winter Light” tore its way through my head. It was unpolished with a purpose and I think that is where the Ice Dragon comparison had come from at the time, that raw garage (or basement) shaking thunder was alive in both bands at the time. Though this band has been pretty well sussed out in terms of easy comparative musical description since, (Witchfinder General, 90’s Trouble) back in 2013 I’d made two suggestions that still hold up today in ‘Hell’s Fire’ era Mistreater and that same ancient feeling of Pagan Altar‘s more 70’s feeling moments (see: ‘Mythical & Magical’). I’ve looked around and kept an ear out since, there really isn’t a single reference or modern band that compares with what Magic Circle do in terms of style and songwriting. The most obvious point of passion comes with the vocal performances.

Is there are more unexpected genius in the realm of classic-leaning doom metal vocalists than that of Brendan Radigan? The melodic narrative he comes up with from song to song, album to album is on a level ready to surpass the greats of the NWOBHM era; Even still, many of those vocalists (Quartz, Angel Witch, etc.) had maybe one or two earnest hits as potent per record. Radigan consistently writes memorable lines at least on par with classic Eric Wagner-era Trouble, if not approaching ‘Master of Reality’ sized groove and resonance without focusing on the ‘hook’ quite as much. In fact it wouldn’t be nuts to describe ‘Departed Souls’ as a record capable of excising the flaws of mid-to-late 70’s Sabbath from the ultra-stoned era of 90’s Trouble (see: opener “Departed Souls”) but, all things considered it’d still be too reductive: Magic Circle have a vibe and emotional resonance entirely their own. Well damn, how am I going to back that up? “I’ve Found My Way to Die” does it for me. If you’ve followed the bands discography so far this track dips back towards the self-titled record a bit in terms of cadence but brings the slightest hint of Peter Vicar-esque riffing to push through Radigan‘s electrifying performance. Those first two songs set a more immediately satisfying tone than the creeping swagger that kicked off ‘Journey Blind’ (2015) though the nuts-and-bolts of both records express in a similar enough manner.

Some of the most exciting guitar work on ‘Departed Souls’ comes with what I’d consider a heavy dose of the Zeppelin-esque affect that was common among late 70’s (and the odd early 80’s) heavy metal bands; Guitarists Chris Corry and Dan Ducas are pushing all the way out into heavy rock territory beyond 80’s doom ‘n gloom and this carries the record beautifully from Side A‘s electric funeral to Side B’s house fire. They don’t go full-on Captain Beyond on the second half but, the floaty egress of “A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares” and the bluesy ride of “Gone Again” should pull in folks who’re still feeling withdrawals after the death of Cathedral at their most nostalgic peak. I’d some concern that Magic Circle would return a totally different band with the four year break between records though I doubt any established fan will take issue with a deeper dive into heavy rock/doom metal variation; If anything it’ll warm the NWOBHM leaning traditional doom crowd even more intensely towards their work.

The real power of doom metal as the most reasonable distillation of hard rocks post-70’s left hand path comes with the blues that it conveys. That emotional core might have been molested beyond recognition in these last thirty years but when a band like Magic Circle get a grip on the most effective points of the sub-genre they create something truly lasting beyond spectacle. With ‘Departed Souls’ in mind I’d say Magic Circle are among the most consistent modern day traditional doom metal groups around. The quality and pace of the full listen shows their work, that they thought this one through and sought after an effective balance of new ideas and old style. ‘Departed Souls’ is distinct enough to escape ‘retro’ or ‘worship’ status and conjure a sound that is unquestionably and most effectively Magic Circle. It is a fine record that I can give a very high recommendation, even when setting aside my fanboy hat for a moment. For preview I’d say jump right into the title track as it should be an instant connection thanks to raging early 70’s Sabbath flair, “I’ve Found My Way to Die” will perk the ears of the longtime fan, and “Gone Again” will give a sense of the shift in tone after the third track.

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Artist Magic Circle
Type Album
Released March 29, 2019
BUY & LISTEN on 20 Buck Spin’s Bandcamp! Magic Circle on Metal-Archives
Genre Traditional Doom Metal,
Heavy Psych,
Hard Rock

Kaleidoscopic visions. 4.75/5.0

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