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There have been a few pleasant surprises of late that have renewed my faith in the old timers still churning out albums after years in the Metal trade. Grave Digger probably stands as the most prominent example, going through something of a slump in the mid 2000s before hammering out one of its most impressive works to date in “Ballads Of A Hangman”. Red Circuit is a somewhat different bag of cats in that they aren’t an old act, though individual members go back pretty far, particularly sleaze driven lead vocalist Chitral Somapala (aka one of the notorious band hoppers that isn’t Gene Hoglan). A few years back I was somewhat impressed, but mostly lukewarm about their debut “Trance State”, which lived up to its name pretty consistently and was comprised of safe, slower to mid-paced metal infused rock with a few textural hints of progressiveness here and there.
But contrary to my initial expectations, the follow up effort “Homeland” is quite a fun filled batch of simplistic, yet solid heavy metal that picks things up considerably in compared to its predecessor. Ditching second vocalist Christine Wolf has had little consequence on the overall sound as she was mostly functioning as window-dressing, but the drive of the album is definitely much more geared towards the rock oriented feel of Somapala’s better known former project Avalon, which was noted for musically catering to his 80s sleaze roots, than the coasting, almost ambient character of “Trance State”. It’s a heavier listen throughout, based largely around a chunky, groove-laden middle ground between the bleakness of Black Sabbath and the somewhat happy-go-lucky nature of some of Saxon’s material.
All players at work here are highly competent, yet also know the value of restraint. This is particularly the case of guitarist Christian Moser, who keeps the riffs solid and simple, and executes a solo with the flash of Zakk Wylde and the brevity of Ritchie Sambora. The drumming and bass work is solidly linked together and straightforward, while the keyboard work takes on an occasional role and mostly fills in a few rest periods of mellowness amongst the heavier sections or to expand the dimensions of the overall sound. When matched against the gritty reinterpretation of Ronnie Dio meets Peter Byford that Somapala has consistently exhibited amidst an array of different sounding bands, the result is very cohesive and fairly original. Ballad-like songs such as “The World Forgotten Sons” and “Absinth” display an interesting dichotomy between simple keyboard and vocal breaks between slow trudging groove sections, while more consistently aggressive numbers like “Sun Of Utopia” and “Healing Waters” maintain an overt catchiness that bucks the usual progressive trends of late.
Although this comes off as a bit plain and predictable for a progressive metal album and tends to beckon closer to the 80s roots of some of the membership, “Homeland” is a solid offering of modern metal conventions, cynical lyrical ventures into politics and human nature, and an overall spirit of accessibility that will lend itself well to most looking for a straight up listen. This isn’t a band of gimmicks, though they have developed a very well-defined formula here that is familiar to most with experience in Somapala’s musical past. Definitely worth a listen and some fairly good expectations of a worthwhile follow up in the coming years, in spite of the front man’s tendency towards flight.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on November 28, 2010.
Chitral Somapala is one of my favorite vocalists in the progressive/power metal genre, so it's always a pleasure to hear him working with another new project. His work in Avalon and Ivanhoe was great, and if you enjoyed either of those, then Homeland is certainly an album you should check out. Rounding out the lineup here is a tight band that performs a heavier form of progressive/power metal with synthesizers and backing vocals from the producer Andy Kuntz. If you like the heavier side of Avalon or Vanden Plas, then this is a no-brainer.
Homeland is polished throughout, but there are a few tracks that really stood out to me on the album. "The World Forgotten Sons" escalates into a powerful, melodic chorus among its grooving guitars. "Absinth" ranges from balladic, melancholic guitars and vocals into emotionally charged power rhythms. "See the Light" has some great flurries of synth lines alongside the chopping guitars and Somapala's expressive vocals, which carry both melody and a mildly tortured edge. Other winners include the groove packed "Through the Eyes of a Child" and the agressive/angelic "Fall in the Skies".
Homeland has a thick tone to its guitars that makes it one of the heavier pure progressive/power albums of the year, and to its credit it can shift between these moments and those of tranquil respite with only a second's notice and you do not feel at all removed from the band's cohesion. The solos are well placed, melodic and memorable, and the vocal performance is, as expected, top notch. I don't hear many albums of this style each year that I enjoy, so if you're a fan of bands like Vanden Plas, earlier Eldritch (or a lot of other Limb Music acts) then you'll want to listen in.
Chitral Somapala. What comes to mind when I mention that name? A mediocre Gus G project that gets worse with every album it puts out? A band that sounds eerily similar to mid-period Kamelot? Or is it possibly his latest endeavor in band-hopping, Red Circuit? If you have never heard of these guys before, I would not blame you. It’s a strange hybrid with annoying vocals, bland songs, inconsistent album pacing and enough sleaze to embarrass a hair gel factory. This is Homeland, folks.
I don’t really know all that much about Chitral Somapala. Everyone either seems to love the guy or hate him. I never heard any of the Firewind stuff he sang on, and I only heard a little bit of Civilization One, so I don’t have much of a basis for comparison besides this album right here. And I have one question based off of it: is he trying to out-sleaze 80s Klaus Meine, Joe Elliot and Bon Jovi all in one album? Does he coat his throat with grease before he sings? This performance is not necessarily bad, as he has a pretty good range and a fair amount of charisma, but honestly…I feel like I need a shower after I listen to this. His voice is just so sleazy and smarmy and…yergh. The 80s ended about twenty years ago, man; you don’t need to try and bring it back.
The Bon Jovi comparison might have been taking it a bit far, though.
The music itself is heavy, stodgy Power Metal in the vein of Tad Morose and maybe Angel Dust, except for the fact that it is built around the blatantly rock-ish vocal melodies on Chitral’s end. I’m not sure if he wrote these melodies or if they were handed to him, but it is definitely a point of interest. It isn’t bad – in fact, being a fan of rock myself, I don’t have too much of a problem with it – but it is just interesting, is all. Songs like the title track and “Absinth” have vocal melodies so streamlined and straightforward that they will have many a listener doing a double take upon hearing them the first time.
When the band gets down to the meat, they can really play. Just check out the ball-busting hooks on “The World Forgotten Sons” or the fantastic “Fall in the Skies.” If they made a whole album of this level of quality and complexity, we would be talking about a score in the upper 90s. “Fall in the Skies,” despite having some of the most sugary-sweet vocal lines in existence, just really works. It has searing, explosive riffing and also seamless transitions into ominous balladry, and it’s really memorable, too.
It’s a shame that they don’t do anything worth hearing after it. The first half of the album was shaky enough, but for the band to churn out the annoying “Healing Waters,” followed by the dragging “See the Light”? It’s just lame. And then we get the ballad “You Can Sleep While You’re Dead,” which is just awful, and I mean awful. I think the main reason is Chitral’s sleaze taking over everything as the guitars drop out completely for a lot of the song. It’s really quite annoying and weak, without any kind of real emotion to it at all. Between drinking a bottle of horse urine and listening to this again, bring on the horse, fuckers.
The bonus track is titled “Dead Man on Vacation,” a song title so stupid that I can smell the suckage from a mile away. And indeed, it is a dragging pile of boredom that nobody will ever remember aside from that retarded name. Seriously, how could any song titled that possibly be good? Were they even trying? Red Circuit isn’t bad, but they will have to do a lot better next time around if they want any chance of being taken seriously. Just listen to Modus Vivendi again. It will do you good.