PICK OF THE WEEK: Cirkeln rollick in fantasy to power black metal with exciting ‘A Song to Sorrow’

When I was growing up, it was assumed that people who listened to heavy metal were total idiots, incapable of completing a sentence and holding down a job. I pretty much was told as much in my dumb Catholic school where they tried to make us think that feasting from the tables of Maiden and Priest were rotting our brains. Little did they know … Actually, hard stop there. Little did they know.

Metal has a rich history of basking in the glory of great literature, and the bands that have been able to take what they cull from the texts and make those spirits come to life truly are the special ones. Cirkeln, the project helmed by sole creator Våndarr, is a perfect modern example of a band that can transform what’s read on the page into a full-blown adventure musically. Influenced by the works of JRR Tolkien and Michael Moorcock, the band’s music has been glorious and rich, reminding of Bathory, Celtic Frost, and so many others that helped plant black metal’s seeds. Cirkeln’s new record “A Song to Sorrow” is upon us, and it’s a blood-rushing experience that feels like it connects Middle Ages storytelling with fire from these times, and it’s impossible not to get completely lost in this thing if you have even a modicum of imagination. It just glimmers with power and fantasy from the start, making this an early-year must-hear album that’ll have you sharpening whatever blade you have at your disposal.

“The March” begins with frosty guitars that slowly thaw, flutes sprinkle the air, and then the track blows open in full, the shrieks ripping into flesh. Euro-style melodies flood the earth, majestic synth haze thickens, and the track charges even harder, ending lavishly. “A Song to Sorrow” rampages in with great riffs and a thunderous assault, the vocals wrenching hard, a synth cloud setting up and blocking the sun. Things feel ominous as the leads scorch and the pace chews bones, with the shrieks lighting up all those wounds you’ve accumulated. “Vaults Behind Vaults” surfaces in a bed of acoustics before the pace gallops, and we’re fully engulfed in flames. The verses cause your adrenaline to surge while melodies lap over the chorus, and the energy is increasing at an alarming rate. Colors explore through the playing, and the final moments get into your system and fill you with power. “Hills of Sorcery” surges and sends energy spikes as it increases its speed. Shrieks punish as the playing generates excitement, and the guitar work later takes on a Maiden-like vibe that gives a classic metal flourish that goes down well.

“Var Blaser Vinden” enters amid a noise path and synth chilling before the tempo picks up, and the vocals begin to carve into your psyche. Speed and melody then explode as things run rampant, keys clash, and the riffs hit the gas pedal, leaving scorch marks on your flesh. “Natassja” blows apart upon arrival, the riffs encircling and bruising before a quick gasp of calm. The playing then begins to entrance, the vocals smear, and things pick up in a hurry, returning speed to the forefront. Synth pumps as regal guitars give an ancient feel to the ambiance, and then the daggers fly again as riffs rush and plaster, eventually bowing out to serenity. “Vandraren” explodes with shrieks cutting through, a warbled voice speaks as if from a dream, and the whole thing is flooded with adventure you can’t help but absorb. Clean singing changes the texture while a hearty folk feel is evident amid the electric pace, a brief comedown reaching to the other end of fury. The track then takes on a post-battle victory anthem that can only be quelled by strong beverages. “Thine Winter Realm Enthroned” is the closer, beginning with synth sounding like horns signaling war, the keys swimming through bloody streams. The melodies kick the thing into high gear, great thrashing rains down, and fiery vocals and thickening chants increase the heat. The final minutes feel like they’re here to ransack a village, the leads create smoke that’ll choke you in your place, and glorious keys end the record on a triumphant note.

Våndarr has an incredible gift for taking the inspiration he gets from his readings and applying it perfectly to his classic black metal, on display in generous portions on “A Song to Sorrow.” This is a record you want to hear if you need a mood adjustment for the better or something to kick you into gear in a positive way. We’ve been a big fan of Cirkeln ever since their debut, and this album pays off all the anticipation we had once we finally got a chance to dig into this glorious record.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/cirkelnband

To buy the album or for more on the label, go here: https://truecultrecords.bandcamp.com/

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