One of the most exciting things in music is getting new material from a band you’ve known and loved for years. Even more exciting is when the material actually lives up to the band’s previous albums, and to the legacy of the members’ collective musical output. Magic Circle are a veritable supergroup at this point (though it wasn’t always that way, unless you’re a hardcore fanatic!), with musicians from bands like Pagan Altar, Torture Chain, Sumerlands, and Innumerable Forms just to name a few of many. These guys are crazy prolific, and somehow, that doesn’t mean that they’re putting quality control to the wayside. Rumor has it that many more songs have been written for some of their groups that were then abandoned for the sake of having high standards, which is just wild with how busy they stay.
Magic Circle from the very start has been marked by vocalist Brendan Radigan’s unique and emotional singing, old school doom metal riffs, great leads, a bluesy hard rock attitude, and pounding drums. Nothing about that has changed here- but some of the approach within that box has. There have always been mixed influences, some of which have been approached better than others- the first album’s sometimes-attempts at recreating the magic of Trouble fell much flatter than their Sabbath-isms, and some of the heavy metal leanings contrasted oddly with the doom.
With Departed Souls, Magic Circle has played more fully to their strengths than ever before. The base sound here is from the earliest days of doom metal combined with a strong influence from the sorts of bands that influenced Black Sabbath themselves, and the result is powerful slow riffs that rollick into fun rocking ones and back as each song’s evolution requires. A sense of lightness pervades, bringing sunshine into even the darkest bits. That lightness even seems to lift up Radigan’s voice, which occasionally (and for the first time on a Magic Circle record) reminds me of Geddy Lee through the playtime of the album.
All of the performances here are absolutely rock solid; the singing is just about perfect, the lead guitar flows above the tight rhythms with beautiful blues rock leads, and the drums and bass lock together in wonderful groove. The song flow is similarly perfect, with the songs leading into each other at just the right times to create or relieve tension, maintaining interest without it feeling forced – you just want to keep listening, an effect as organic as the production. Even the cover perfectly encapsulates the music, coming together to form the rare newer album that I just cannot find any criticisms in. There’s stuff this year that I prefer more, I think, but every listen of Departed Souls leaves a little more of my heart with it, so who knows how I’ll feel in a few months, or a year? Fans of primordial doom take notice- it’s been a long time since I’ve heard something that captures this spirit this well, and I’m sure it’ll hypnotize you as well as it has me, if only you give it the chance.
Album rating: 91/100
Favorite track: Departed Souls