Album review: Circle of Illusion: Jeremias – Foreshadow of Forgotten Realms
Posted by ChristopherMammal
“Eclectic” is a useful word. You can write it to make people think you’re very clever or very pretentious. In a musical context, however, everyone should know that “eclectic” simply means “deriving ideas, style or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources.”
That’s what the eight-member Austrian band Circle of Illusion is. Eclectic. So much so, in fact, that you could include their debut album, “Jeremias”, in a music trivia quiz – how many different genres do these guys play?
If there is a blanket genre for this band, it can be no more precise than “prog”. Under that blanket you’ll find all sorts of warm and comforting prog metal, symphonic prog, funky jazz, symphonic metal, neo-classical prog, theatrical composition, and even echoes of the 1980s disco-esque funk-jazz of bands like Shakatak.
I completely agree with two comments by the publishers, Generation Prog. They say “Jeremias” is a progressive rock opera for the 21st century. They add that this is “an epic concept album… with a Hollywood widescreen sound.” It’s all that.
The album took a long time to incubate. Gerald Peter, the keyboardist and composer, started toying with the idea of a concept album about six or seven years ago. His initial vision was more for an approach than a specific thematic concept. He wanted to combine progressive rock with elements of film music.
In its final, released version, “Jeremias” is an 80-minute exploration of the ambivalence of human emotion. This concept extends beyond the album itself and into the 36-page booklet packaged with the CD.
Peter also wanted to integrate numerous musical influences that had inspired him. This is not always a commercially successful ambition. It is making art for art’s sake. The art is usually the better for that.
Peter met a perfect collaborator, the vocalist and lyricist Taris Brown. He developed the “Jeremias” story, which is set in a surreal fantasy world peopled by complex characters.
The band performed the entire opera on stage in Vienna in June. It was a resounding success that won critical acclaim. The line-up for that show is the same on the album: Gerald Peter (keyboards, orchestrations), Rupert Träxler (lead and rhythm guitars), Aaron Thier (drums), Stephan Först (bass), Taris Brown (vocals), Cara Cole (vocals), Elga Shafran (vocals) and Ulrike Müllner (violin). All the voices and instrumental performances are top-bracket.
The first two tracks reveal what to expect from the rest of the album. “Overture” would work as the opening track on an album of symphonic prog, neo-prog, prog metal or even melodic black metal. It would also be a great theme for a psychological drama-thriller movie. Track 2, “The Beginning”, makes departures into funky jazz complete with wow-wow guitars. Sections of this song are reminiscent of the 1980s British funk-jazz band Shakatak. Then the guitar and vocals pull the music back towards symphonic metal and dance through avant-garde realms before returning to the main theme.
I have to say “Jeremias” may not be the album of first choice for a prog metal purist. However, it is packed with pleasant surprises for any prog metal fan who believes “eclectic” and “progressive” are almost synonyms.
Not many bands sound similar to Circle of Illusion. They are genuinely ground-breaking. Maybe a moderately close equivalent would be the highly innovative To-Mera, a terrific sort-of-prog-metal band from England. When you’ve experienced Circle of Illusion, however, you may feel as I do – they don’t need comparisons with others. They stand up magnificently as what they are.