Circle II Circle

The Middle of Nowhere

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Twenty-five months after the release of Watching in Silence came 54 minutes and 26 seconds of Zachary Stevens' newest post-Savatage musical excursions. And again the bulk of the material is co-written by Stevens and Savatage founding member Jon Oliva as well as that band's guitarist, Chris Caffery. All one has to do is spin "Holding On" to hear some in-the-pocket rock metal built with precision and polish, a solid effort that will satisfy those converted to Circle II Circle's mission. Producer/engineer Jim Ward Morris -- having worked with Demons & Wizards, Iced Earth, and others -- keeps the recording clean utilizing a brittle rhythm guitar sound to give the product some edge. While the pure singing lead guitars work, it would have been more fun had they pushed the envelope and just turned it up to 11 to get pure, not manufactured, distortion. The music here cries for that envelope to be pushed and pushed hard. If anything, Circle II Circle is so refined that the seamless, errorless playing cries out for some Rolling Stones sloppiness. Although the title track, "The Middle of Nowhere," is perfect in its majestic balladry, the music is destined to stay within the genre. There's an interesting mix of melodies that are borrowed from the outer reaches of rock, though, and it does spice things up. If punk star Patti Smith chose to go metal, "Faces in the Dark" might be the result -- think her song "Frederick" with Andy Lee and Evan Christopher's guitars blazing their grunge/hard rock blend under flavors from that melody. "Psycho Motor" comes off like a tribute to Deep Purple's "Highway Star," sophisticated assaults with Queen-style vocals slipping in. Circle II Circle march down their path with lots of spirit, though the material feels trapped in a time warp. For fans this is a respectable outing, though at times it is played a little too safe.

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