Saturday 27th August 2016
The Underworld, Camden
Norwegian Progressive Metallers Circus Maximus began the second leg of their 'Havoc' tour at London's Underworld last Saturday. The first leg ended in Madrid in March which coincided with the release of their fourth album 'Havoc'. Since 2005 the band line-up has been vocalist Michael Eriksen, brothers Mats Haugen (guitars) and Truls Haugen (drums), bassist Glen Cato Møllen and keyboardist Lasse Finbråten. Sandwiched in between the last five months has a been the succesful crowdfunding of a special DVD filmed at Rockefeller Music Hall in their home town of Oslo. Our evening started interviewing both Mats and Lasse around the corner before the gig. Unfortunately, this meant we missed first support band Looking For Droids (sorry guys) but we did catch the excellent complementary support of Memoreve and Gabriel - check out both these bands if you get a chance.
The Vikings entered the Underworld arena to the accompaniment of 'Forging' which in turn led into the awesome welcoming Metal riff of 'Namaste' - also Circus Maximus's album 'Nine' released in June 2012. Punters fists were already raised punching the air - "hey! hey! hey!" they shouted as Michael Eriksen's versatile vocals (imagine Europe meets Rammstein) and Lasse Finbråten's keyboard solo were both immediate evidence of the depth of the band serving up its Prog Metal menu. What an opener. 'A Darkened Mind' from their second album 'Isolate' served up another gargantuan opening riff with more "hey! hey! heying!" from an already absorbed audience - the presence of the Haugen brothers drumming and lead guitar this time making this a family affair. The opening track from their very first album 'Sin' with its Eastern sound - was affirmation following our interview with Mats and Lasse beforehand of the influence of Zeppelin - as expected weaving its way between Eriksen's crystal clear lyrics, Mats guitar solo and appropriately, for the heavier sequences, some more "hey, hey, hey" devil horn finger salutes.
'Havoc' emphasised the driving force of bass guitarist Møllen - who was literally massive in presence all night. And despite in some eyes the latest album being seen as a swing more towards Metal than Prog - this particular track kicked arse! And just to readdress the balance we were then taken back to title track '1st Chapter' and 'Glory' - a progtastic combination of the longest running songs from their very first album from May 2005 - honestly refreshing - and testament to their earlier incarnation and influences when they formed in 2000 gaining much credit for their versions of technically challenging tracks by top bands such as Dream Theater and Symphony X. Awesome. The question "Are you ready for love?" heralded 'Arrival Of Love' it's all-round 80's sound - with it's superb keys, guitar, vocals and harmonies - belying the fact that it was part of Isolate - recorded in August 2007. Mollen's bass opened the atmospheric newbie from 'Havoc' - 'Highest Bitter' - again with an Eastern edge - with Eriksen again excelling on vocals - one of the stand-out numbers of the night. And before we could catch our breath - the opening strains of the anthemic 'Architect Of Fortune' from 'Nine' rubbed our proverbial Prog noses in it - so perfectly constructed - with Eriksen conducting the Underworld faithful in a singalong - Haugen's guitar solo and the band's haunting close out providing the highlight of the night. Follow that!
Well Circus Maximus did their best with 'Abyss' from 'Isolate' and to be fair after a bit more "hey! hey! heying!" this really took off with some outstanding solos from guitarist Haugen and the keys of Finbråten 'Alive' from the 1st Chapter again reemphasised the earlier melodic side of their strong back-catalogue whilst, similarly, despite the imposing intro to 'Ultimate Sacrifice' from 'Isolate' - this was further evidence of Circus Maximus 'lite' - although there was still time of course for a few more "hey hey hey's" from the floor. The opening 'whale' guitar of the beautiful 'Chivalry' - the third track on the night from 'Havoc' - reaffirmed in my opinion how the guys have got the balance right - a wonderful powerful Prog fusion of great vocals, guitar, keys and drumming - I rest my case. The killer opening riff from 'Game Of Life' from 'Nine' brought proceedings to an end although there was still time for the obligatory Viking "hey, hey, hey'" and a final knock-out guitar solo from Haugen. Given this was the second leg of their 'Havoc' tour, I suppose it would be a bit churlish to say that I expected more than the three tracks aired - for example the fantastic 'Loved Ones' or 'Remember' - but given there were four bands on the roster and Circus Maximus's undoubted strength in depth - it's fair to say that this setlist delivered the quality of this band in abundance. If you love Prog/Metal or if you love Prog or Metal then make sure you either buy 'Havoc' or see Circus Maximus. You will not be disappointed.