"The 1st Chapter" (Sensory; 2005)

Reviewed by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The Circus Maximus, for historical value, was the ancient world's counterpart to modern America's SuperBowl, a fiercely competitive chariot spectacle that drew watchers from all points within Rome's monarchic majesty. The Circus Maximus was reported to hold up to 250,000 spectators and is considered to be a precursor to contemporary stadiums and skyboxes. The height of grandeur, societal interaction and intense sport for its time, the Circus Maximus signals the magnificent, a testament to opulent materialism the human race has historically worshipped above an unseen God. If you've seen the chariot race in "Ben-Hur," then you have been given a taste of the Circus Maximus. 

Circus Maximus is also a Norwegian prog metal band with an equal taste for the lavishly extreme. A group of highly talented individuals, Circus Maximus is the embodiment of Dream Theater, Symphony X, Queensryche, Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. "The 1st Chapter" is a long, lavish and hefty (honestly, would it be any other way?) journey through prog metal that has genuine punch and textured songwriting that sometimes borders on mainstream.

"Alive" is about as mainstream as a prog song is going to sound in this day and age, at least since Yes' "Roundabout." Though one song cannot compare to the other, the point is that "Alive" has such pop power backing to its prog structure (ala TNT during the "Tell No Tales" days) that if it fell into the right marketing hands, it might stand a shot at wide release, though at 5:38 an edit seems inevitable. 

Particularly notable is the way Circus Maximus' Espen Storo reflects Yes' Tony Kaye on his keyboards. In fact, the instrumental "Biosfear" is so much a tribute to Yes, it's blatancy is as undeniable as it is entertaining. Also in true Yes fashion is the 19-minute  title track, "The 1st Chapter," which, despite a cheesy opening minute, roars out like Iced Earth then Dream Theater. In many ways, Circus Maximus is over ambitious on this monster track, but there are enough wonderful moments to let it ride out.

The ten-and-a-half minute "Glory of the Empire" is a delicately woven song that draws its might from disciplined epic layering, building its strength from the soft melodies that support the heavier moments. Though Iron Maiden still reigns as kings of the metal epic, "Glory of the Empire" is an accomplished body of work in its own right. It luxuriates instead of explodes, almost like a modern sonnet in its reflection upon the Roman Empire that easily acts as metaphor to the cannibalistic empires consuming our  world today. Also impressive is the frequently gorgeous "The Prophecy," which has such a wondrous opening section before stomping off for the crux of the track.

If you're into prog metal, I need not outline this much further. Guitarist Mats Haugen picks and chooses his moments to be flashy, and when he does, he bursts forth brilliantly. Otherwise, he drives his riffs appropriately and sets his acoustic lines ornately. Vocalist Michael Eriksen carries his band in the confident way James LaBrie does for Dream Theater, and there's hints of LaBrie in Eriksen's vocals, as there are TNT's Tony Harnell. All ingredients for a successful progressive foray.

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Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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Copyright 2005 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 09 Dec 2018 12:03:11 -0500.