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Wake the Dead, the Saints are In Hell: Magic Circle-Departed Souls Review

In the golden age of doom metal, Magic Circle don their Priestly garb and distribute the eucharist gladly to all disciples.

Photograph by Frank Huang

It's no secret that within the last decade or so, doom metal has experienced the most widespread exposure and admiration in it's history. While many argue about who helped kickstart the doom renaissance, many can come to the consensus that if a band isn't that good, it shows in comparison. On the flipside, there are bands that have made many significant inroads in expanding the genre. One of the bands that came from this undisputed golden age was MAGIC CIRCLE from Boston, home to my Boston Red Sox and a killer underground metal and punk scene.

Built around the talents of vocalist Brendan Radigan, guitarists Chris Corry and Dan Ducas, bassist Justin DeTore and drummer Q, MAGIC CIRCLE first made heads turn with their self titled debut through New England based label Armageddon. The album had notes of mid 80's doom metal darkness with a hard rock edge that really brought the listener straight into a world replete with occult vibes and a feeling of dread. But it was on the band's 20 Buck Spin debut Journey Blind that MAGIC CIRCLE took their formula to new heights. The group took heavy inspiration from metal legends like King Diamond, Angel Witch, and Metal Church to give their primordial doom a welcome shot of good ol heavy metal adrenaline that give the songs a greater sense of purpose as well as a triumphant breath of fresh air. The powerhouse vocals of Radigan were a huge highlight of Journey Blind because you kept wondering, "How high can this guy sing?" As should also be anticipated from a good doom metal album, Corry and Ducas delivered towering riffs while DeTore and Q brought enough low end to share with the whole doom metal class. The band have remained somewhat silent as to studio material with a few live performances to tide the fans over, but silence can only last so long and we are now greeted with third full length Departed Souls. Be prepared because this time, this album comes with a time warp.

If you go into Departed Souls with the framework of Journey Blind at the front of your mind, you will be shocked to hear what the band have cooked up for us now. This album fully departs from 80's power metal meets doom and takes a journey back to late 1978-79. The album has a much more intimate and organic sound mix on this album compared to Magic Circle and Journey Blind and I love when bands record fully in analog. The production has an unmistakable warmth that wasn't super present on previous releases and this is where the album begins to take form. This album, upon my first listen, sounded like if Terry Jones of Pagan Altar joined Judas Priest mid Stained Class sessions. It's THAT dynamic and punchy. While some might argue that the 70's doom well has been dry for years thanks to the drawing efforts of bands like Witchcraft, Uncle Acid, Blood Ceremony and Orchid, this is where MAGIC CIRCLE stand alone. This isn't Pentagram worship and this is by far not the Beatles hooked on cheap sex and neon. It doesn't try to become the next Jethro Tull and especially doesn't attempt to rip from the already endless well of inspiration that was Black Sabbath. No, MAGIC CIRCLE decide to paint with small colors from portions of those sounds, but ultimately paint a mural full of diverse influence.

It's pretty apparent from the opening title track that this sounds similar to a mid paced Judas Priest cut that may have been lost to the sands of time. Corry and new guitarist Renato Montenegro play off each other like a doomed out Tipton/Downing to maximum effect. The vibe of the song reeks of that rebellious early spirit of 70's era Priest but those comparisons can only be instrumentally. I will just come out and say it, Brendan Radigan has one of the most unique and amazing voices in the underground metal scene. The man has talent no doubt, but he truly makes this band that much more special and awe inspiring. The Angel Witch influence can be heard on parts of following track I've Found My Way to Die as well as nods to bands like Pentagram and even Di'Anno era Iron Maiden through Radigan's gruff highs and screams of "I've found my way to DIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEE!!!!" The solo in the mid portion has a psychedelic sheen that adds to the vintage feel of this cut. Valley of the Lepers quickly became one of my favorite tracks on the album with it's chunky as hell opening riff and the palpable whiff of 70's and 80's hard rock rebels like Triumph, Y&T and UFO. It still retains a heavy doom metal aesthetic with the soul of the aforementioned bands being a prime example of how doom can get groovy without sounding overly goofy and cheesy.

However, it was fourth track A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares that stopped me dead in my tracks and really gave me a bitch slap of nostalgia. With a whirling keyboard, the track goes into a very Boston (the band) flavored acoustic lick that draws you in like a fly to a Venus Fly Trap. Radigan croons over the riff until the track hits you with a big ass surprise, that being the Eastern instrumentation that wouldn't sound out of place on a Led Zeppelin or Rainbow recording! It was at this point that I knew that this band went all out to stand out. Pretty crazy when a doom metal band can pull off a more convincing Zeppelin sounding cut than those Greta Van Fleet posers. The chips are cashed in once more on the Pentagram meets Blue Cheer romp of Nightland. This track also has a driving energy found in new school revival acts like Wolfmother, Royal Thunder and Rival Sons, but aims them doomwards. If this was an early cut from Cirith Ungol's Frost & Fire LP, it would fit in with ease.

Gone Again begins with a bluesy Law & Order sounding Fender Rhodes before the band launch into one the heaviest and most convincing Uriah Heep impersonations I've ever heard. It's also a personal favorite with the very cool organ lines creating a very jazzy sort of feel that could be heard on Uriah Heep albums like Demons and Wizards and The Magicians Birthday. It's a breath of fresh air that lends itself to be yet another major highlight from this record. The solo however is something straight from Blizzard of Ozz though and it's jaw dropping to say the least before ending with pure Pagan Altar and Rainbow worship with DeTore and Q guiding the band like Charon upon the Styx. The ending duo of the psychedelic interlude Bird City Blues and Hypnotized end this timeless sounding album in grand fashion.

It may be pretty early in the year and may seem out of place to make this call in the midst of the doom uprising but on Departed Souls, MAGIC CIRCLE have crafted a timeless statement that will resonate with the hardened old head, the grizzled doom fiend, the nostalgia seeking hesher and the metal greenhorn alike. This album is overflowing with style, substance and an overall vibe of coolness that most other bands playing similarly sounding doom metal simply can't and will never amount to. When a band can pull this off, in my book they can achieve a level of clout that is nigh untouchable. So, do you believe in magic?

Overall score: 9/10

FFO: Pagan Altar, Judas Priest, Uriah Heep, Pentagram, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Witchcraft and Led Zeppelin.

Departed Souls is out on March 29, 2019 via 20 Buck Spin. Pre-orders are available here.


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