Circle of Death works best when things become subtle and a big part of that is slowing stuff down.
A389, a record label dedicated to all things heavy, made a masterstroke of a marketing move this past Halloween. Rather than release a new album on the traditional Tuesday opening, the label decided to release not one, nor two, but three albums on the vigil of All Souls’ Day (a Friday). There was Pharaoh’s Negative Everything, a very Black Sabbath-inspired album, and there was Sick/Tired’s Dissolution, which was thrashy noise rock. But there was one more: Ohio’s Homewrecker. The band unleashed Circle of Death on that day, too. Said to be more punishing and ugly that the group’s 2012 debut, Worms and Dirt, Circle of Death is certainly brutal and violent. In a fun way, it offers much in the way of catharsis. However, of all of the three records released on the Pagan holiday, Pharaoh -- who is the opening band for Homewrecker on their latest tour -- and its album takes the cake, easily. While Pharaoh’s record was a bit of a throwback to ‘70s sludge rock, there were interesting flourishes going on within it (the use of a background choir, for one). Homewrecker, on the other hand, feels just as retro here, but instead looks to late-‘80s/early-‘90s punk-metal riffage to punch you in the face. And, sadly, as fun as the album can be (and it’s a short one at nine songs and about 21 minutes -- does that make it an EP?), it does feel a little "been there, done that", offering very little that feels unique or new.
That all said, did I mention that this was a fun record? Certainly, the trifecta of records released on Oct. 31, 2014, share a commonality in that they are well produced and each offers similar and yet dissimilar sounds. Pharaoh’s record is the one with the long songs, while Sick/Tired and Homewrecker are running sprints in comparison. It’s neat to compare and contrast these three releases, all with similar black cover art. They do work well together. But, as you may be wonder, what about Homewrecker? Well, the overall concern with Circle of Death is one of thrashiness. If you were to take away the heft of the guitar crunch and the somewhat growled vocals, which are not totally indiscernible, this could very well be a hardcore punk album. But, that said, hardcore punk can be fairly limiting, rigid in its rules of harder, faster, louder dynamics. The thing about the genre is that, after awhile, the records become interchangeable: only the band monikers, album titles and song names are different. There’s an underlying sameness of sound: everyone is trying to sound just like everyone else to perhaps prove that they have just as much muscle as Band X. Or perhaps it’s just that you can only go so fast and loud before the sound becomes white noise (a problem that the Sick/Tired album lapses into on its title track). Either way, hardcore punk and its metal offshoot(s) haven’t really innovated much. So what you get with Circle of Death is a real feeling of déjà vu.
Still, there are subtleties if you go looking for them. In fact, Circle of Death works best when things do become subtle and a big part of that is slowing stuff down. "Silence the Weak", the penultimate track, starts out at quite the gallop, but then something happens. It grinds, literally, to almost a halt. And that’s when things get attention grabbing, even though it does sound a little like an old Body Count track by this point. Things gradually simmer from there, segueing into the final cut, "Unconscious", which is basically the sound of a heart monitor going flatline. It’s a cool way to end things: the end to an album is the end of a life, which makes the album title seem somewhat circular. Indeed, it comes back to the first track, which begins on the peal of a sustained guitar note, which, again, feels like someone meeting their maker. "Forced Under" has the hallmarks of an interesting instrumental opener: stoneage riffage, and a structure that makes the piece feel like a classical composition. The title track, meanwhile, offers thrills and chills as the tempo picks up to a quick tempo pace with much guitar noodling. However, from there, the songs in the midsection of the record feel like mirrors to each other, with the odd exception here and there (things decelerate briefly in "Illusions of Peace", for instance). While that causes a whiplash effect, to hear so many lightning quick songs in rapid succession, and, sure, it’s grand, there’s that vague feeling of not much that’s groundbreaking is going on here. It’s just loud. It’s just generally fast. It’s just very, very hard.
Still, Circle of Death is pleasing enough. While it’s not going to lay the groundwork for anything new, and it does in fact share a harmony with the aforementioned Body Count in that there’s the obligatory anti-cop song, "Skin the Pig", which is so, so 1992, you’ll like this if you like your slices of metal to be run in two minutes or so. The gear shifts in tempo are interesting when they do happen. And the record does work in concert with Pharaoh’s and Sick / Tired’s in revealing and fascinating ways. So are the multiple releases a marketing stroke or a series of artistic pieces working in concert with each other? It could be both. Still, Homewrecker’s album certainly is visceral and energizing, and even if it doesn’t set the metal world alight with novelty, it certainly doesn’t feel like a novelty either. It’s a fascinating trilogy, these three albums, and positions A389 as a force to be deliberately reckoned with. Basically, when all is said and done, it’ll be neat to see where Homewrecker goes from here, and whether or not the band can stand alone on a subsequent release without having its opening act and another related group propping them up by having their albums all released on the very same day -- and Samhain at that.