Norwegian Circus Maximus became a full line up in 2000, consisting of long time band-mates Michael Eriksen on vocals and brothers Mats & Truls Haugen on guitar and drums respectively. In addition the band consists of keyboard mastermind Espen Storø and Mats' old high school buddy Glen Cato Møllen on bass. The band has a wide variety of musical influences, from pop/rock to 70's Prog-Rock to heavy and death metal, all of which is melted together and gives the guys their unique sound. The melting pot creates a mixture of great melodies, groove, heavy riffs and weird odd time signatures. Very accessible vocal melodies blending perfectly with progressive metal tunes. After recording 2 demos, which received rave reviews in Norway, as well in Europe and the states, Circus Maximus hooked up with Danish based metal agency Intromental Management in April 2004, and soon after got signed to the American label Sensory Records (who in turn licensed the album out to Frontiers Records for the European release). During summer of 2004, the band completed the song writing for the debut album, 'The First Chapter', which was recorded in various studios in Norway, and mixed in October 2004 in Denmark at Jailhouse Studios with well-known producer Tommy Hansen at the helm.
THE 1ST CHAPTER (2005) FRONTIERS RECORDS
Michael Eriksen - Vocals and Harmony Vocals
Truls Haugen - Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Espen Storø - Keyboards and samples
Glen Cato Møllen - Bass
Mats Haugen - Guitars and Backing Vocals
* European Bonus Track
I'm not even sure where to start writing about this one. Circus Maximus just dropped out of nowhere and took everyone by surprise. OK, so I know I've heard the name mentioned before, but I never bothered to check up on them. But suddenly their firstborn was in my mailbox one day, and I was left speechless! Man, this is about the most jaw dropping debut album I've ever heard. These Norwegians play their own form of progressive metal, blending in a lot of melodic touches. Much of this is due to Michael's smooth voice, and his use of accessible vocal lines and harmonies. Imagine a mix of Tony Harnell (TNT) and Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids), and you might catch a drift. Now imagine that kind of singing over a band similar to Symphony X and Pagan's Mind! The result is mind-boggling and in many senses unique. But even the most interesting description can be deceitful if the band in question doesn't deliver. But as you might have guessed, these guys do! I cannot stress enough how good these musicians are. Mats' guitar-playing is stellar, taking on the legacy of Ronni LeTekrø (TNT), Tore Østby (Conception, Ark) and Jørn Viggo Lofstad (Pagan's Mind) as it was the most natural thing in the world. Espen's keyboards gives the tunes a lift, adding perfect atmospheres that compliments them all. Glen and Truls back it all up with a steady, yet never boring, rhythm section. The songs vary from the instant power of the opening "Sin", through the epic 10 minute long "Glory Of The Empire" to the Queensrÿche-esq ballad "Silence From Angels Above". What more can one want? This album is flawless! I think it will be a hard task to steal the number 1 spot on my top 20 releases from 2005 away from this album.
Killer tracks: All of them!
ISOLATE (2007) FRONTIERS RECORDS
Michael Eriksen - Vocals
Truls Haugen - Drums
Glen Cato Møllen - Bass
Mats Haugen - Guitars
Lasse Finbroten - Keyboards
It's always hard to follow up on a debut album. Bands usually spend years creating their firstborn, whereas the sophomore album should be done in a year or two. And when the debut is as hailed by the masses as was the case with Circus Maximus' 'The 1st Chapter', it is certainly not an easy task. But leave it to these Norwegian geniuses to deliver! 'Isolate' is everything we got on 'The 1st Chapter', and maybe even more. The musicianship has been turned up a notch, without taking anything away from the catchy songs. Because that is the true strength of this band. They create memorable songs, with catchy melody lines, yet with the most complex music to follow. Listening to songs such as "A Darkened Mind", "Abyss" and the epic "Mouth Of Madness" is like listening to a band taunting all other musicians out there! And lest not forget the stunning instrumental track, "Sane No More". Absolutely incredible! I'm actually sitting here wondering how the heck it is even possible to create such magic. How does one approach writing tunes that incorporates hundreds of different rhythm changes, breaks, bridges, solos etc., without it all sounding like an endless guitar lesson? I guess you have to hear it to believe it. 'Isolate' became a concept album, almost by chance. When the band sat down to discuss various ideas they had been working on apart from each other, it turned out that many of the songs they had written connected lyrically and concept wise. Thus the album became a 9 track journey into the world of an isolated man and his thoughts around his situation, life, love and freedom. I'm so impressed with this band, and their music, I will most definitely put 'Isolate' on a top spot on my top 20 list of 2007 releases.
Mats Haugen, Glen Møllen, Michael Eriksen, Truls Haugen, Lasse Finbråten
NINE (2012) FRONTIERS RECORDS
Michael Eriksen - Lead Harmony Vocals
Truls Haugen - Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals
Glen Cato Møllen - Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
Mats Haugen - Guitars, Backing Vocals, Programming
Lasse Finbroten - Keyboards, Samples, Backing Vocals
Circus Maximus took their sweet time to record this album, as 5 years went by between "Isolate" and "Nine", the title of their 3rd effort. Still, despite the long wait, the Norwegian prog/metallers return with the same line-up, and on the same record company as last time.
The 5 years between "Isolate" and "Nine" have been spent doing concerts, as well as some of the members doing other projects. Most noticeable is vocalist Michael Eriksen's stint with The Magnificent, as well as helping out Kamelot after Roy Khan's demise. Oh, and let not forget the time spent writing and recording this album! Early interviews and listening session reports promised a slightly different sounding album from these Norwegian prog/metallers this time around. And having spun 'Nine' countless times since it was new, I can agree, as well as disagree.
'Nine' is first and foremost yet another brilliant album, from a brilliant band. Not content with doing the same album over and over, this time the Circus Maximus boys have really raised the bar to come up with something fresh. The first thing that hit me when listening to the songs that follows the opening intro is how pop-oriented the songwriting is this time around. Now, Circus Maximus have always incorporated poppy melodies in their brand of progressive metal. However, it is even more apparent on "Nine". Still, they have not abandoned the metal. It's just that the songwriting as a whole is perhaps more melodic, and on the surface the songs come across as more straight forward, in lack of a better term. But you need not scratch very deep to find that the music is filled with layers, twists and turns that sounds 100% Circus Maximus. One of many strengths that make this band's music so enjoyable is that they make it sound so darn easy, but at the same time there is no denying the skills needed to pull it all off. It's never stale or safe, but always beautiful and breathtaking. And the icing on the cake is Michael's smooth voice.
I'm blown away by the talent showcased on 'Nine'. It's actually pretty hard to put to words how good this really is. It might not end up becoming my favorite Circus Maximus album, but that only speaks volumes of the rest of the bands catalogue, because 'Nine' is a strong contender for the album of the year title for 2012.
Trivia: The title "Nine" was supposed to reflect the fact that there were 9 songs on the album. But during the mastering process the opening intro was separated from the first track, leading to the final version of the record having 10 tracks instead.
Killer tracks: Namaste, Game Of Life, I Am, The One, Burn After Reading, Last Goodbye
Espen Storø guest appearances:
Carnivora - 'Judas'
Truls Haugen guest appearances:
Eidolon - 'The Parallel Otherworld'
Mats Haugen guest appearances:
Carnivora - 'Re-Incarnal'