Today we have a double feature for you! Cirkeln is the project of one musician under the moniker of Våndarr (also referred to as Searcher in a press release), and he seems to be a highly motivated fellow. Cirkeln was formed in late 2018, and since then already released one demo and one single in 2019, now followed up with two releases in 2020 already: EP Stormlander (February) that was self-released and full length Kingdoms That No One Remembers (June) which was published through Naturmacht Productions. With that much output from a single person in such a short time, can we expect a finely crafted experience to enchant us with Tolkien-like storytelling, or will it be a quick and dirty mess? Let’s dive in and see.
After the intro track The Call from the Deep that fades up droning ambience and chanted vocals, Stormlander‘s first track Old Demon King starts off as a more or less traditional black metal song with tremolo picked guitar riffs, blast beats on the drums and guttural vocals. Some parts take a slower, traditional heavy metal vibe, but overall I thought I knew what to expect – old school black metal with some slower heavy metal or doom influences.
Track 3, Hammer High, completely changed this perception as it started off with a folk melody that carries throughout parts of the song, mixed with a deep male choir in the background and an overall more epic and slower approach. Nice! The rest of the songs on Stormlander solidified my new view on the project: what we have here is more like an epic heavy metal band that cleverly utilizes black metal riffs, vocals and production to tell haunting tales of journeys through Mordor. Våndarr has a great sense for songwriting, including epic storytelling with dramatic choruses and overall very diversified songwriting. The riffs alternate nicely between being inspired by heavy, slow doom, to galloping rock or viciously tremolo-picked black metal. The vocals are growled in a typical black metal manner yet very theatrical and supported by atmospheric choirs at just the right spots.
The old school black metal production and vocals might put off listeners that would otherwise enjoy the epic heavy metal songs, but for me this mix works quite well. After 31 minutes, Stormlander is over and leaves me curious, wanting more.
Thankfully we have Kingdoms That No One Remembers to go to next. The full length is opened by the song In His Deep-Hidden Hall which starts with a delay-infused spoken word passage that weaves tales from the book of Tolkien before starting an old school black metal assault. The overall tone here is once again epic, with twists and turns in the songwriting, changes of pace, an acoustic part thrown in for good measure and a production that sounds overall more polished and modern that Stormlander‘s was.
After the first song is when Cirkeln really lets loose though. The intros to songs like Golden Rauros and The Castle invoke memories of Summoning, and there is lots of Immortal and some Agalloch in this record, alongside some pagan metal parts and the occasional dungeon synth peaking through the curtains. All this is beautifully blended with heavy metal, dynamic songwriting and absolutely gorgeous guitar solos. It really takes the listener on an epic journey and manages to stay engaging despite the runtime of 54 minutes. Nothing feels like filler here. The biggest change between the two records is the production, which mostly affects the vocals – they are far less front and center than they were on the EP, lessening the impact of catchy hooklines a bit, that highly motivated me to shout along on Stormlander. On the other hand the reverb-laden vocals give the record a more dreamy, atmospheric feel, which fits quite well to the songwriting.
In conclusion both records won me over. While Stormlander was raw and a bit more catchy, Kingdoms That No One Remembers feels more polished and atmospheric. Both records are epic (and yes, I counted – I use this word 7 times in this review, but it just fits so damn well)! If you like your black metal slow and (*pauses to look up a synonym*) …HEROIC, or prefer your heavy metal dark and black-infused, I can highly recommend you check out Cirkeln. If the current release cycles are any indication, we will not have to wait too long for the next journey to depart towards adventure, peril and glory.