Tuesday 31 December 2019

Cosmic Circus - Cosmic Circus (2019)

Country: India
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 4 Dec 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

I can't find a lot of information online about Cosmic Circus, just enough to know that they're not the cult krautrock band who released Sternenmaskerade in 1972. This Cosmic Circus is a versatile duo from Mumbai, India. I have no idea who either of the musicians are or how they split up responsibilities, but I know that I like what they came up with. They call it post-progressive rock and this is their debut album.

Their Bandcamp page tells me that this is a concept album featuring a set of five different characters, each of whom gets a track of their own and all of whom meet at the end of the album, their stories intertwining. I'm not sure how that works, given that there are only five songs with words and some of those have very few of them. If everyone meets in the title track, they have very little to say about such a momentous occasion. Maybe there are themes in here that I'm not tracking yet on a few listens.

I can say that what I'm presuming are the five songs in question are notably varied.

With Exordium an intriguing instrumental intro, I would expect that Her is the first track proper. It's initially laid back, reminding of Wishbone Ash but soon moving into King Crimson with layers that I remember from Epitaph on their first album. The lyrics tell a sad story of the violent escape of an abused child, with a video sample midway to highlight that. After that, it gets fascinating, with finger snaps to punctuate an acoustic guitar that evolves into an electric solo and an ending that's a promise but maybe not a pleasant one. It's a real story.

It leads right into Pegasus, a jaunty seventies piece that moves into a prog metal crunch under wild keyboards. I would expect it to be the second of the five songs but it's an instrumental so I have no idea what story it tells. I got caught up in the music, which is almost entirely driven by synths right down to what I presume are emulated steel drums. The guitar solo is fine but it's not as wild as the keyboard solos around it, even the one that plays at the end in some jazz club with the waiters busy and the band tuning up.

Like all these songs, Pegasus runs over six minutes, but it never feels like it's long and only part of that is because the tracks to come get longer as the album runs on. Pale Euphoric hits the seven minute mark and takes things in a completely different direction, being a gothic new wave number before a melancholy voice underlines it. The drums are uncannily lofi here, almost as if they were recorded on a drum machine in a closet somewhere in Leeds while the band rehearse downstairs. For a dark song, it ends playfully, leading to what sounds like a passing bomber and an alarm clock. I don't know why.

Silhouette Before Dawn, longer still, has an eastern edge, sinuous Egyptian melodies emerging from a guitar intro that could have been recorded by Steve Howe for Yes. It's not an instrumental, though it feels like one for a long time, and it makes me wonder why I'm not hearing anything Indian here. This band conjure up a lot of comparisons, almost all of them English, mostly the greats of seventies prog rock with a little second wave from the eighties to keep things interesting.

If that makes four of the five story songs, the fifth is certainly Chasm of Endless Suffering, which is even more jaunty than Pegasus, starting out like a roaring twenties song (and I mean the 1920s not the new decade starting in a few hours) but with a guitar solo over the characterful piano. This is the real epic of the album, almost thirteen minutes long and sometimes feeling like it. There's good stuff here, from Pink Floyd-esque samples to a dancing keyboards section and some neat building riffs, but it's my least favourite of the five core tracks and I don't buy its arc. Maybe it wouldn't have been as much of an anomaly at half the length.

And so to the title track, which supposedly links everything. It doesn't for me but it sounds good anyway, even with overdone static as it starts. It's a darker piece than anything prior, even finding some Black Sabbath as it goes through a slow build, but that build takes to a welcoming psychedelic vibe. "Welcome to the Circus Cosmic" indeed!

With more Steve Howe (or maybe Steve Hackett)-inspired acoustic guitar in a long coda, appropriately enough called simply Coda, we're left to ponder on the previous fifty minutes. I'm not sure if it's as coherent as the unknown musicians planned it to be and it gets lost for a while during Chasms of Endless Suffering, but it's a delightful album for me, constantly inventive and imaginative, as all prog rock should be. The worst thing about it is easily the cover. Here's to the follow up!

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