NWOFHM. That’s what it says on the inside of the cd booklet, in big bold letters. NWOFHM? WTF? If you don’t get the joke, explaining it won’t help, but here goes: New Wave Of Finnish Heavy Metal. Our Finnish friends Circle are apparently referencing the famed NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) that took the rock world by storm circa 1979, giving us Saxon, Angel Witch, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Venom, Samson, and many many many more. What’s that got to do with the Can and Neu! pulsed space/prog/post-rock normally practiced by Circle?? Well Circle fans know that these guys have indeed established their very own trademark “circular” sound (repetitive, rhythmic, looping, hypnotic rock) that, whirlpool-like, pulls in all sorts of influences, from the aforementioned Krautrock forefathers to jazz and dub and lo-fi drone improv and, yes, metal. When you get a new Circle album, you kinda both know what to expect *and* never know what to expect. Well we’ll tell you about Circle’s latest studio effort, Tulikoria. In part, it’s Circle donning the leather and spikes (metaphorically, perhaps, though they threatened to do so for real live on stage at their show in San Francisco that was happening the night we originally posted this review). Circle’s love of metal, specifically the true, traditional heavy metal of the ’80s, has borne fruit before, on several of the songs from their amazing Sunrise album released in 2002 (sadly now out of print). So, the heavy metal component present on Tulikoira is precedented in the Circle discog. But, like Sunrise, this isn’t just Circle “doing metal”. It’s a lot of other things besides! Nobody will confuse it for an “actual” metal album. But heavy metal is definitely, proudly an element here, amongst others. And graphically, too, it’s an inspiration, as you’ll see from Circle’s new fangled, tough-looking symmetrical logo, which even incorporates a lightning bolt!
There’s four tracks here, starting with “Rautakaarme”, an atmospheric seven-minute cut featuring monkish chant, eerie drone, and energetic bursts of rock action. Second track “Tulilintu” is *entirely* active and energetic, really bringing in the headbanging, fist-pumping metal, complete with guitar leads and soaring screams in the manner of Rob Halford. Seriously. The lyrics are in Finnish (presumably) so we don’t know how tongue-in-cheek-or-not they are. Track three, “Berserk”, is kinda weird, another atmospheric exercise with some lines in English like “I’m a scorpion” and “I’m a crocodile” spoken over rather spooky, bass-heavy grooves. A lot of tension in this one. Could almost be a noirish film soundtrack from the ’70s, but with additional “circular” electric guitar riffing. Then the final track “Puutiikeri” arrives, pretty much taking over the album since it’s an epic 24 minute affair, beginning and ending with authentic heavy metal riffing, but journeying far and wide in-between. Creaky improv splatter, lush keyboards, gently whispering vocals, spacey electronic effects, chugging, pulsating rhythms (of course!), and even some quasi-techno beats (!) are stirred into this weird mix. Ranging in mood from calm tranquility to flat out rockin’, this is a real trip, as is all of Tulikoira. If you’ve been following Circle’s output in recent years, and rolling with all their eccentricies, from Sunrise to Guillotine to Forest to Empire, you’ll be happy to add Tulikoria to your collection too! (Aquarius Records)