(All Album Reviews by Ivan_Melgar_M)
It’s great to find that despite so many years listening to progressive rock, my capacity of astonishment isn’t lost. I’m still capable to feel that sensation I had when I was 12 years old each time my parents brought me from USA a Yes or a Genesis album and found something almost magical that gave me goosebumps.
As you might guess, Welcome to the Freakroom has really impressed me, because they keep the spirit of the days when prog was young but have the guts to be absolutely unique. They play great symphonic prog and are not afraid to get very close to the borders of neo prog with a touch of hard rock. If I had to choose a word that describes them, it would be original.
Shadow Circus was created by John Fontana (guitar), who after 15 years of musical activity in NYC decided to re-create some prog based in the golden era of symphonic and prepare a demo to send as part of his resume, but his ex band-mate the drummer Corey Folta herd the music encouraged John to form a band, with the help of the vocalist David Bobick who wrote the lyrics and with the addition of the former cello player and now bassist Matt Masek and Zac Tenorio on the keyboards, a band was born.
Their debut album Welcome to the Freakroom opens with “Shadow Circus”, a song that gets the listener in the mood with a typical circus tune that starts to decrease in intensity while a mellotron goes in crescendo introducing to a keyboard explosion that reminds me of Clive Nolan, and directly links to the rhythmic vocals. A well developed song that serves not only as an introduction to the album but also for the band because they manage never to a sarcastic sense of humor, excellent opener.
“Storm Rider” starts with strong keyboards and drums soon followed by the band. The vocals are a bit odd for an average prog band but suit perfectly with the music. Fast and vibrant song with radical changes and an amazing piano and of course as you will expect in a USA band, very strong guitars.
Now it’s time for pompous intro in “Inconvenient Compromise.” The band hits us with everything they have but then have a radical change to section that reminds me of Yes from the Going for the One era, but before we get used another change leads us to a softer and melodic territory, just to change again into a hard rock section leaded by Bobik’s vocals. This is what prog is about, constant changes without ever losing control and Shadow Circus gives us everything. I won’t tell about the finale to avoid ruining the experience….brilliant.
Every album needs a hook, a moiré catchy song and “Radio People” provides it. The organ sounds almost psychedelic but despite some excesses (which I love) we find and interesting hard rock track. Not as complex as the previous but still very good, and the arrangements are perfect.
“In the Wake of a Dancing Flame” starts with an organ solo followed by acoustic guitar and drums that work as an intro for an interesting power ballad with a very psyche oriented sound. The keyboard sounds as coming directly from the late 60’s and there’s an oriental favor very typical of that era and a guitar work that matches perfectly. Very nice track, but a bit repetitive though. If I had to chose the weakest track, I would have to point my finger towards “In the Wake of a Dancing Flame”, but still is a very good song, so we are before a band with high standards.
The last track “Journey of Everyman” is a three-part epic inspired in the novel “The Talisman”. It’s fair to say they reserved the best for the end. Starts with a nice piano solo until the band explodes with a guitar and keyboard section in the limits of symphonic and hard rock. Then you can expect anything - moogs, mellotrons, cellos…well everything that makes prog so great. The changes are always dramatic but the band never lose the continuity. It’s hard to describe everything that happens in more than 11 minutes, but I’m sure this track will satisfy the most demanding progheads.
Shadow Circus is just what we need in this times of easy music and boring mainstream; a bunch of guys willing to take risks creating a very complex and well elaborate album which expresses everything that prog implies.
Highly recommended, I’m sure it won’t disappoint anybody. There’s music for purists and also the harder spectrum of the prog community..
Iván Melgar Morey