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Depressive black metal bands often follow the same pattern of evolution during their careers: from the initial hissing demo tapes of simply-structured, repetitive black metal, the bands often end up exploring the territories of a tad lighter and less metal approach even if the aspect of depression is still carried on. One clear example could be Austere’s transformation into a more polished act with clean vocals until the band eventually perished and the similar style was continued on the Katatonia-esque, rocking Grey Waters.
With their major debut Closing a Circle, Isolation has done the same. While this German band’s early career was laden with scruffy lo-fi black/doom metal with screeching vocals and a constant undertone of melancholy, on Closing a Circle the band has made quite a change in approach in comparison to those days: only lightly distorted guitars, more rock oriented beats and languid clean vocals.
Luckily, this combination works for the most part. The starters, introductory ”Something and Nothing” and follow-up ”Closing a Circle”, feature some very captivating melodies and riffs reeking of sadness, even though the lyrics have a more hopeful attitude that the music might suggest (e.g. ”closing another chapter / for the next one to begin” and ”but this is not the end, no”). ”Never Enough” includes some harsher vocals proclaiming the song’s title, but compositionally it’s nothing compared to next one ”This Moment” from which I can spot the latter-era Katatonia influences more clearly. ”Nomad” is a lengthy instrumental fluctuating between the hopeful and wistful melodies to success.
The latter half of the album does not capture my interest as highly as the first side, but undoubtedly a song like ”One Day” is great and ”Fan the Flames” interestingly flirts with old school doom/rock elements. ”There Will Be No Answer” is a brief interlude that seems a little filler-like, but is nonetheless a decent piece before the haunting doom of ”The Wasteland”. ”May You Fare Well” concludes the album with somewhat generic melodies, and perhaps I’d prefer the album to end with preceding track.
Closing a Circle is most likely a love or hate case. It will be appreciated by those who accept evolution towards a more easier and so-called mainstream style and disliked by those who’d prefer the band to retain to their underground roots. I find the new Isolation quite enjoyable and most of the tracks are truly grabbing, plus the breathing production is golden for ears. I’m not sure how much longevity Closing a Circle has, but at least for now it’s a pleasure to put on the album and rejoice in the songs that tend to get stuck in your head as well.
3.5 / 5
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Isolation’s newest release actually had me somewhat excited - with its serene cover art and the band’s recent split with Austere, I anticipated getting at least a few weeks’ worth of enjoyment out of this album. Unfortunately, Closing A Circle turned out to be the musical equivalent of suffering through Shia LaBoeuf’s performances in Transformers movies. Musically the album was odd but fundamentally enjoyable, but the powerfully repellant force of the singer’s monotone vocals makes sitting through the album’s 46 minutes pretty torturous.
The album begins with a few tracks of basic atmospheric black riffing, but almost immediately the vocals come in and drop a sonic H-bomb on everything. The singer uses a sleepy singing style that doesn’t fit with the music, and doesn’t really seem like it would fit with any music, and he keeps it up for pretty much the duration of the album. It’s too bad because while the initial songs sound fairly typical of the genre, the band’s stripped down production and slightly unconventional riffing is at least interesting, sounding not too far off from bands like Whirling or LIK. The band really starts to experiment a bit later in the album: ‘One Day’ is close to trip-hop, and ‘Fan The Flames’ opens with a riff that’s closer to classic rock than black metal. Unfortunately even when the music gets really unique the vocals bitch slap you back into a state of annoyance and prevent you from enjoying everything the rest of the band does.
I’m not really sure what these guys were thinking with this album, but it’s definitely not what I expected at all. The one positive I can see from Closing A Circle is that at least Isolation is willing to experiment, and perhaps in another album or two these guys will manage to craft a unique and captivating sound. In the meantime though, I’d say skip this one.
(Originally written for Musical Warfare)
When your band's name is Isolation, there will exist a certain predilection towards the sounds you are putting out there, so I went into Closing a Circle with every stereotypical expectation of either a cold, callous black metal sound stripped to its basics or a crushing and oblivious doom. These were the genres being thrown around, and yet I am wholly surprised that these Germans perform in neither of the genres, at least not on this full-length debut (they've had a number of demos and other releases in the past which might be difference). I would say that Isolation have a certain 'post-' feel to them, that is to say that those genres might have been at their core, but the web they weave here only so rarely includes those genres.
No, this is more like depressive, somber rock with a lot of shining clean guitar tones driven over a thick sub-level of grooving, big bass and thick, percussive drumming. The vocals are the one real hangup I had with the recording, sort of a dreary, low to mid-tone crooning with the obvious German accent; and sometimes they come up pretty short. However, in general they do the trick enough to match the cadence of the music, which is wrought through dreamy, streaming chord patterns in numbers like the title track. Here is an example of where some of the metal influence really comes through, since the drumming is nearly non-stop double bass pummeling. However, the rest is academic, really, a sort of psychedelic, escalating swirl of rock not unlike some of the stuff Tiamat wrote for A Deeper Kind of Slumber. "Fan the Flames" is another of the heavier songs on the album, with some choppy, melodic doom riffing and a rare instance of harsh vocals.
In truth, what Isolation have come up with here feels fresh and original considering their origins, and most of the songwriting is consistent. The packaging to the album is minimal, blue and evocative; and the lyrics empty, emotional and image driven. The sparse spoken word bits work seamlessly into the whole. I actually like it most when they start jamming along, the bass swiveling under the most spy-like, mysterious chords of the guitar, like the short instrumental "There Will Be No Answer" or the most likely material to cause introspection, such as the eerie, pretty bridge to "The Wasteland". To their credit, they capture these poles well, and the bright, bold sound of the production does the music a great service. At times, the band might not live up the implied aesthetics of their moniker, and some of the vocals seem a bit sloppy, but Closing a Circle is nothing if not intriguing. I liked it, and fans of bands like Island/Klabautamann, late 90s Tiamat and maybe Norwegians Virus should check it out.