Style: Progressive Rock/Metal
Release Date: 13 Jan 2023
I know almost nothing about Circle of Void. They're an Egyptian outfit, though I don't know where they're from within that country. There are at least two members, but possibly more. Tarek Brery handles guitars and keyboards, while Moanis Salem contributes bass. There are drums here and I don't believe they're electronic, but I have no idea who's playing them. They play in an imaginative form of instrumental rock that's clearly progressive and occasionally experimental and which has a tendency to hop over into metal at points, if never for too long.
What I wonder the most is what their collective influences are, because this seems to be all over the map musically. I've gone with prog rock/metal as a label, for the sake of having one, but it's a tantalisingly varied album that often feels like post-rock, sometimes shifts into jazz, especially in Salem's basswork and has more than one section that feels like a solo instrumental album from a blues rock guitarist who wants to figure out how to conjure up new sounds from an old six string. There's a lot here to digest and almost none of it sounds ethnically Egyptian.
My favourite tracks are the more unusual ones, often in which Brery's keyboards pretend to be an orchestra by choosing instruments in turn to mimic. They see what it's like to be flutes and violins on Under Star 1, just as his pensive electric guitar pretends to be acoustic. They come back to the violins on Destiny and continue to do that all the way to the closer, Unbecoming, but they also find moments that sound like a brass section joining forces to make an emphasis. That happens on An Illusive Haven too, but the strings join in to create a dense Ligeti-like atmosphere that works well as an interlude, especially given that the album's epic is next up. The brass punctuation mark is at the very end of Unbecoming too, to open the way for soft piano to wrap up the album.
That's Circles of Void, which builds magnificently and continues to add diverse points of influence to the list. There's a voicebox in play halfway through this one and the guitar gets liquid after it, a sign that we need to add Peter Frampton to Jeff Beck and Allan Holdsworth as guitarists that it's likely Brery enjoys. As much as I like the easy to follow bass here which is lively and welcoming, it's Brery I keep coming back to. For a while, I was enthused by his keyboards but eventually his guitar won me over too, with songs like The Weirdo Meets the Maiden feeling like extended solos.
There's a lot here to digest, enough that I actually stopped the album halfway through my initial listen to start it over again now. I had certain expectations from the opening track, A Prologue to the End, which is the heaviest piece here and one with a disappointing ending, a fade that comes out of the blue when I thought the piece had a lot more legs. Those expectations were flouted as the songs ran on until I had to start over to reevaluate what I'd heard. And then, getting past the point I restarted, the album continued to flout my expectations. The ramp up in tempo at the end of Destiny II before it fades out with a brief symphonic metal choral section caught me totally unprepared.
To highlight just how much this shifted for me, I wasn't that fond of the opener, especially with an uncertain ending like that, but Under Star 1 won me over and the longer I went, the more I fell in love with this music and every fresh revelation it brought me. Is it just me or am I hearing a Mike Oldfield style guitar on Until There's Nothing? How long did I get into Unbecoming believing that it would stay orchestral throughout? Maybe when the drums kick around the minute mark with a heavy bass. Let's add Ennio Morricone to the melting pot though from that intro.
Not everything works, because I'm not convinced by sections where Brery's guitar appears to be unplugged but he's playing it anyway. They seem more like a rehearsal of a piece of music than an actual finished product. But hey, I'm only on my third listen and this just gets better and better. It isn't often that I'm surprised so well and so consistently by an album. Now, where can I obtain the background I want on this band? Do they have a website? Are they on social media? Is it just these two musicians? Who's playing the drums? And what did they grow up on in Egypt to end up with an unusual sound like this? Inquiring minds want to know.