Who is Circle of Dust? Read the review below and find out…
Circle of Dust is possibly not a band that you’ve heard of, but they’re fairly influential. Formed back in the late 80s and early 90s as the project of Klayton, who is currently the main man behind Celldweller and numerous other projects, Circle of Dust is hard to categorise, as each of the albums released under the CoD moniker tend to fall into different genres with loose ties to each other. The best way to describe the albums is Christian Industrial, but don’t let that put you off, as the evangelism is kept to a minimum and instead focuses more on introspection and corrections that Christianity as a whole could do, whilst focusing a lot on the music and instrumentation rather than the lyrics. The main reason I say they’re influential is they’re also the reason an entire subgenre of music exists, that of Christian Industrial music. So they’ve got that going for them.
As the second album, Brainchild, was remastered and released on the 29th April 2016, I figured it’d be incredibly timely to do this review of the remastered version before I review the other albums. I’ve only reviewed the first disc of the remastered version, as the second disc consists of remixes, demos, and a new song that’s going to crop up on a future Circle of Dust album so on the whole, it’s more worth me going through the first disc track by track. And with that, on with the review!
Cranial Tyrant is the opener to the album, and starts off in slightly unexpected fashion. A quiet ambient intro abruptly gives way to thrash-metal drums and guitar that drive the song along in a pulse-pounding fashion, marking a rather dramatic departure from the previous album, which wasn’t thrash metal at all and focused more on pure industrial. The vocals join in shortly afterwards, as well as industrial synths and samples, and whilst the album has been remastered, the vocals still sound slightly muddy. I suspect this is an artistic choice, given how meticulously Klayton is when it comes to getting the sound right.
The song keeps pounding along, interspersing vocals with clips from presumably films and TV shows. This works in an interesting fashion as some of the clips showcase the more Christian side of Circle of Dust, such as the clip about Michigan having no laws against assisted suicide, whilst the lyrics themselves don’t seem to be an overt reflection of Christian values.
Like its predecessor, Telltale Crime starts out with a pounding guitar riff and drums after a brief industrial intro. However, there are a lot more industrial sounds than previously, and the instruments also sound a lot less muddy than the original. This is a nice addition as the riff in this song is a fairly meaty one that sounds a lot better being cleaner than the original.
The lyrics in this song are fairly timeless, despite being written between 1992-1994. Despite being ostensibly a Christian industrial band, there aren’t actually that many references to Christian themes, instead focusing more on government and its failures, including stock market crashes and other things that are still as relevant in 2016 as they were back in the early 90s.
Prayers of a Dead Man
Prayers of a Dead Man sounds like the thrash metal start to the apocalypse. Low drums and a steady guitar combined with the usual guttural and harsh keyboard noises as well as an introduction that goes on for over a minute and ten seconds before the vocals properly kick in ensure that this sounds more like the soundtrack to a nightmare rather than a happy, preachy song. And in this reviewers opinion, is probably the heaviest, if not one of the heaviest, songs on the album thanks to its sounds.
The lyrics and vocals aren’t much happier either, with a vocal effect of some sort being played over the human lyrics, so there’s a mesh of man and machine there. Here we finally get some overt Christian phraseology and iconography as well with the lyrics, but they don’t feel out of place with the rest of the album either.
Regressor (Aggressive Mix)
Regressor is probably one of the more brutal songs on the album, as hinted at by the name. There’s also a second song on the album, the final track, which is a different mix of the song but with the same lyrics. Despite the tidying up with the remastering, the vocals still seem slightly off, which I can only again put down to artistic choice of not wanting to tidy it up too much and have it seem too soulless. However, there are plenty of samples to take the place of lyrics throughout the song, which is a definite showcase of how Klayton can mix both his own style and choose industrial samples.
The guitars and keyboards fight for dominance in this song, unlike previous songs where the guitar has remained dominant throughout. Here, the samples and sounds from the keyboards definitely fight for the listeners attention over the crushing riffs from the guitar. The drums, for once, take a backseat in this song, providing a rather stripped down beat compared to others on the album, before slamming in for dominance near the end of the song.
Enshrined is one of the more Christian songs on the album. However, unlike a normal evangelical song, the lyrics of Enshrined subverts the concept of religion and seems to be an angry condemnation of both the Church and mankind in general. Not your average Christian song, and it’s easy to see why the band were getting attacked for their message back in the 90s.
As usual, the guitars and drums thud along at a fairly fast pace, continuing the thrash metal theme found on this album. Unlike the self-titled album, which was mainly industrial and keyboard based, or the other main Circle of Dust album “Disengage” which was very experimental in its approach, “Brainchild” as a whole unabashedly wears its thrash metal influences on its sleeve.
Course of Ruin
Course of Ruin continues with the Christian themes mixed with samples from films and TV shows, in terms of the lyrics, and focus more on evangelism to a degree than others have. Once again, thrash guitar and drums combine to create a tight song that doesn’t meander about but stays fixed on course. I’m sorry for the pun.
The remastering on this song is a lot more apparent with the instruments rather than the vocals. The instruments all sound a lot cleaner and it’s possible to pick out the bass as well as guitar now, something that wasn’t easily distinguished all that much in the original.
Descend is probably my favourite song off the album. It’s an incredibly industrial song that plays around with all instruments and a lot of samples to form another protest song. It’s not as thrashy as the other songs, and mixes a lot of samples from the American media at the time, including then President Bush, arranged in a way of attacking the US government.
With less of a thrash focus, the song is free to play around a lot more, whilst still including chugging riffs. Descend also takes the time to play around with the vocals as well, blending man and machine again and creating an interesting effect where the samples and howls of “Descend!” provide a focal point compared to the rest of the lyrics
And back to the thrash. Also mixing in a lot more samples, including what sounds like a deliberate battle between several groups of samples, this is a much more fast-paced song than previous ones most of the time apart from two slow and heavy breakdowns which chug along ferociously.
On top of all of this, it does so whilst also retaining the Christian imagery in the lyrics but not in an overt way. Alongside Prayers of a Dead Man, this is possibly the heaviest song on the album for me as it proceeds along brutally and quickly.
Pale Reflection is probably the most experimental song on the album, containing synths and samples and drums during the long intro. The entire song seems to take its tone and style from the apocalypse again, but unlike Prayers of a Dead Man, there are no vocals or lyrics from Klayton, only samples taken from other media which focus on an inner struggle against despair and humanity itself.
This is probably one of the more reflective songs on the album on the human condition, and is an interesting take given that there are no vocals in the song at all. The pounding doom guitar gives the listener a nice breather after Deviate’s thrash, and is a welcome relief to the album.
Aggressor (Regressive Mix)
Like Regressor, Aggressor shares the same lyrics and some of the same samples and keyboard patches. However, unlike its counterpart, Aggressor seems to focus more on a fierce groove, rather than the brutal approach in the other song, as this is reflected in the more experimental synths and different mix of vocals and sounds present here.
It’s an interesting choice to end the album on, and I feel like this could have been swapped around with Pale Reflection to give a better ending to the album, as Aggressor feels more like a middle-of-the-album track, rather than an ending track. As such, the album does feel like it ends rather abruptly, but given that it’s a fairly tight album otherwise, this isn’t too disappointing.
If you’re a returning fan of Circle of Dust, or a new member to the flock, this is definitely one release you won’t want to miss from the FiXT Store.