When I was in high school, my friends and I would gather on the weekends after games and video study for football and play D&D and other games of imagination. We would look to the music collections we had purchased using our earnings from chores and create mix tapes to play during our sessions. One would play Iron Maiden, GnR, and Priest, another would bring Pantera, Rob Zombie/White Zombie, &c, and I would bring punk music – Anti Nowhere League, Henry Rollins/Black Flag, and the Sex Pistols. I loved the general lack of regard for the rules that punk had both lyrically and musically. Which now brings me to Circle Takes the Square’s “Decompositions – Volume 1.” Released for stream in 2012, but released physically and officially in 2013, I felt it an apt time to review the album.
Labelled critically as a Screamo band (emotional hardcore punk, essentially), Circle Takes the Square wears their punk background on their sleeve. All problems with the Screamo label aside (as in, does it really exist?), this band’s sound is a howling cacophony that demands the listener’s attention, and very much reflects the psychedelic and busy artwork from its album cover. The band blurs the line between hardcord punk, grindcore, progressive black, and technical death metal on this release, and impose their sound and presentation.
Starting off using tribal rhythms and chanting, the album immediately acquired my attention (the opening sounded very similar to sounds I heard at Native American tribal meetings, especially those tribes originally from the Southeast). They then punch you in the mouth with harsh, biting guitars, and a mixture of clean female and growled female vocals. They are at their most successful musically when they interact their male vocalist with their female vocalist using an unpredictable series of clean passages and growled passages and even combining the two in one interaction. This varied lyrical interplay leads to one of the most original call and response style compositions I’ve heard in a good long while, and I’m a sap for call and response.
Sonically, this album is intense. Each song is fully narrated lyrically and there are very few moments during which the music is not accompanied by the singers’ voices, giving the music a bit of the cacophony about which I was writing earlier. They are unafraid to have the music breakdown into dissonance to completely jar the ear away from the melody, and they are more than willing to use their vocalists to provide the transition breaks. The album is well produced, and does not have any fuzzy moments or points at which the band’s instruments seem drawn back or out of the mix.
Lyrically, band focuses on similar themes to Agalloch, and other Cascadian Black Metal bands. It is very nature-based and even describes a protagonist walking away from the dying city to spiritually and physically heal. Further, it seems they try to drive the point home that we must find our place as humans on this planet, placing them firmly in the modern Dark Folk schemata.
Altogether, if you are looking for any album that is aggressive in tone, but composed with art in mind, then this will be something you appreciate. At times, its intensity is the very thing that makes the album wholly accessible and inaccessible. It is well performed and solidly produced. Fans of punk and the more energetic parts of Agalloch will appreciate this and Circle Takes the Square very much have no issue with energy, drive, and focus on this album.