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October Thorns - Circle Game Award winner

October Thorns
Circle Game
by Justin "Witty City" Wittenmeier at 15 June 2022, 1:35 AM

OCTOBER THORNS was a progressive metal band from New York that formed in 1999.   The band members played in, or would go onto play in, a wide variety of bands such as DRIFT INTO BLACK, TRANS SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA, and ADRENALINE MOB.  Unfortunately, they were only ever able to release one demo before ending.  Sadly, bassist Dave Z passed away while on tour with ADRENALINE MOB in 2017.

The demo has resurfaced but this time as a full length titled “Circle Game,” in addition to being remixed and remastered.  I never heard the original so I can’t say how “Circle Game” sounds compared to the demo but I can’t firmly say this new version sounds absolutely amazing.  There seems to be something against a nice, clean production within the metal world but I’m a production whore myself.  Why wouldn’t I want the music I like to sound as good as possible?  Granted, depending on the style, a rough production is preferred within reason.  But with progressive metal?  I want it sounding GOOD.  As expected, this album contains stellar musicianship and plenty of twist and turns along a sound that is full of variety and moods.  Music like that, to me, works best when everything can be heard crystal clear.  This album sounds like a dream and the music absolutely calls for it to be so.

The problem with prog is that the term by its nature isn’t very defining.  I can name twenty different prog bands (metal or otherwise) that don’t sound anything alike.  So saying OCTOBER TORNS is a progressive band doesn’t really paint much of a picture. The music contained in the twelve tracks and over an hour of run time, is pretty damn balanced between light and dark elements.  I feel that a lot of prog metal is either too focused on the metal part or not focused enough.   “Circle Game” is an album that is focused on providing a metal experience but they are comfortable enough to stretch that sound outward and take it to the limits without breaking it.

The album begins with “Page One,” and a flurry of keyboards that build up alongside a riff that joins around the .26 mark.  A smoothly flowing guitar solos births from this in a natural way, gliding along until the song gets more riff focused as the vocals join in next.  Paul’s voice is smooth in its own right—very clear, concise,expressive and energetic.  Dave Z’s bass is monstrous, and go from emotional melodies to blazing speed.  He provides whatever the song needs while still moving the rhythm along with Joe Cardillo’s drumming, which is concise and methodical as it is hammering and brazen.

The later half of sees Cardillo joining Dave Pando and Joe Chawki on guitars for a virtuous performance that is dizzying yet doesn’t sound out of place in context of the song.  Paul finishes the song strongly with a catchy performance. The title track begins with somber yet melodic clean tones that showcases the band’s willingness to dial it back and hit on more emotional tones. Sweeping keys and crunchy riffs soon take over but the song remains more subdued to a degree.  The vocal melodies and patterns here are catchy as hell and trade off with the musical passages very well.  The two and a half minute mark changes the song for a slighter rougher performance which gives the song a boost yet still keeps it from being too much thus allowing for it to slide back in with the chorus easily. And how about that keyboard solo and the accompanying guitar solo?  This band really knows how to make the instruments compliment each other.

If the title track was an example of how to make progressive metal lean on the prog side then “Jihad,” is how to make it headbanging and engaging.  The drums are galloping and the vocals are among the most memorable on the album.  This is just a well put together song that is a non stop thrill ride.  A sense of urgency is carried throughout, adding weight and heft to the speedy riffs and the deadly accuracy of the drums and bass. “Exhausted Minds,” has extreme metal elements, particular the drums and riffs in the later half.  Some of the vocal patterns remind me of a lot of early 90’s music like FAITH NO MORE. I don’t know if there are other singers on this song but the vocals get near extreme levels too towards the end. .  Some of the keyboards on this one are subtle and regulated to the background but it does add simple but effective dynamics to the song.

The final track to the actual album is “Sounds Of Life,” which is an odd song but executed expertly. Parts of it, especially the vocals, give me an 80’s vibe, as do some of the vocals when the music isn’t quite as heavy.  The middle portion of the song is soaring guitar leads and crafty keyboard riffs while the later half is more metal based with big riffs. The last few tracks are unreleased demos and are interesting at least.  “Eyes Of Suicide,” is particularly great because the guitar is so damn biting, much like the vocals which are insane.  The final demo, “Tree,” is very good too.  I like the overall darker sound it has and the slow, plodding structure speaks to the doom lover that I am.

Ultimately, I really feel like “Circle Game,” is an ode of love to the power of prog and a fitting tribute to Dave Z.   Based on this album, I’d say that first demo the band did is a hidden gem.  With “Circle Game,” those gems finally get the polish and care they deserve.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 9
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Page One
2. Circle Game
3. Soul Forge
4. No Idle Phrase
5. Jihad
6. Exhausted Minds
7. Leviathan
8. Sounds of Life
9. Eyes of Suicide (Demo)
10. Sounds of Life (Demo)
11. Air (Demo)
12. Tree (Demo)
Lineup:
Dave Z – Bass
Joe "JoFu" Cardillo – Drums
Dave Pando – Guitars
Joe Chawki – Guitars
Norbet Sator – Keyboards
Paul LaPlaca – Keyboards, Vocals
Record Label: Divebomb Records
     


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Edited 06 July 2022
 

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