Artist: Mystic Circle
Album Title: Mystic Circle
Label: Atomic Fire Records
Date of Release: 4 February 2022
Oh wow, the name Mystic Circle takes me back. To be more specific, it takes me back to the late 90s when I was at university and was continuing with my extreme metal journey of discovery. By this time, I was already a fan of the heavyweights of the more melodic end of the black metal spectrum, namely Dimmu Borgir and Cradle Of Filth, as well as a fondness for the sounds conjured up by early Emperor too. It was in the racks of an independent record shop in Canterbury that I saw ‘Infernal Satanic Verses’ by Mystic Circle, their third full-length released in 1999.
I’ll admit that it had some decent tunes on there, although the Germans never became a firm favourite with me. Part of the reason was that the music didn’t resonate as strongly as some of their peers, meaning that I never delved back into their previous releases. And, with the band suffering a myriad of line-up changes along the way, eventually breaking up a few year later, Mystic Circle never gained any real traction or momentum.
The last break-up apparently occurred back in 2007, with this new self-titled record the ‘comeback’ album having seen the band reunite in 2021. Well, I say ‘band’, but ‘duo’ would be more apt. That’s because, after 23 years, two original founding members have joined forces to resurrect Mystic Circle from the dead, namely A. Blackwar and Beelzebub. Their roles were more streamlined and distinct back in the day, but in 2022, Blackwar is credited as vocalist, guitarist, drummer, and keyboardist, whilst Beelzebub is equally busy, handling the exact same roles except instead of the drums, he plays the bass guitar. Got that? Good.
I had to go back and listen to remind myself, but the press release from a fast-becoming favourite, respected label Atomic Fire, is indeed true when it states that the outro heard on the aforementioned 1999 album is reprised and worked into the opening track here, ‘Belial Is His Name’. Given that ‘Infernal Satanic Verses’ was the last record that these two musicians worked on together, it’s actually a nice, clever touch. But, the more important question for me is this: would this self-titled affair finally see the band garnering more success in the world od black metal? On balance, the answer is likely to be ‘no’, unfortunately.
Don’t get me wrong, ‘Mystic Circle’ is not a bad record. But neither is it the kind of release that gets my juices flowing. It isn’t as overtly brash or bombastic as Dimmu Borgir or Cradle Of Filth. Some might see that as a good thing. But on the other hand, neither is it as interesting, edgy, and engaging as something like ‘La Morsure Du Christ’, released by Seth last year. ‘Mystic Circle’ is definitely a powerful, aggressive, and snarling affair, plenty heavy enough to warrant the extreme metal credentials; it blends black with death metal to punish the ears of the listener with frosty, fast-picked riffing and blastbeats aplenty. It unashamedly harks back to the late 90s, as the duo’s imagery will attest, and the background context clearly explains why. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but in order to succeed, the songs need to be killer. They need to stand out and turn heads, make us all long for those days that are scarily over two decades ago. Unfortunately, that’s where Mystic Circle fall a little flat.
In fact, the description ‘a bit flat’ is perfect for the album as a whole. For all the good moments, the overall feeling I get when I listen is that there’s something missing. It starts well enough with ‘Belial Is My Name’, a thunderous slab of ferocious, yet melodic, black metal. The production is surprisingly good, allowing the drums to sound commanding and lacing the guitars with that icy goodness. The sound of bells is pure theatre, as are the synths that bathe the track, albeit in a relatively subtle way. And the vocals are pure acidic bile being spat from the mouths of our protagonists; clearly the years have not dimmed their Satanic fervour. There’s even room for a quick guitar solo to top things off well.
Unfortunately, some of the ensuing eight tracks (seven, when you remove the cover of Possessed’s ‘Death Metal’ at the end) fail to deliver as strongly. ‘Seven Headed Dragon’ is unrelenting and within, it contains quite a bit of groove. But there’s not enough variety to justify the five-and-a-half-minute duration, with the chant-like chorus somewhat underwhelming to these ears.
Mind you, ‘Letters From The Devil’, with its NWOBHM-like chorus, and bold spoken-word vocal effects is a more than decent track, with a great wailing lead solo and furious blasts. The caveat is that as good as it is, it stretches things a little by unnecessarily being well over six minutes long. Shave a good 90 seconds off, remove the odd ‘spooky’ sound effects in places, and this could have been an even stronger track than it is.
I quite like ‘Darkness In Flames’ too, thanks to the thrash overtones that occasionally call to mind Slayer and their ilk, not to mention the sense of drama that the song carries with it. To underline the 90s stylings of ‘Mystic Circle’, the opening of ‘The Arrival Of Baphomet’ contains a synth tone that’s pure ‘Enthroned, Darkness, Triumphant’ by Dimmu Borgir. Admittedly, the more pronounced melodies within the song mean that it also happens to be my favourite experience within the second half of the album.
All things considered; ‘Mystic Circle’ is nowhere near a disaster. There’s a certain charm to much of the material that can’t be denied. Neither can the abilities and, indeed, the hunger of Beelzebub and Blackwar be argued with; they’ve left nothing at the door and won’t die wondering, that’s for sure. I just wish fervently that the record offered a little more magic than it does. My interest wanes as we head into the final stages of ‘Mystic Circle’, just because I know what to expect, and the music just blurs into one rather unremarkable homogenous sound. There will be a select group of metalheads who will lap this up regardless of my various misgivings. Therefore, if you have a liking for melodic black metal from the 1990s, then please take a listen to the return of Mystic Circle and make up your own mind. I’ve been known to be wrong occasionally.
The Score of Much Metal: 75%
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