REVIEW: Circle Takes the Square’s Decompositions: Volume Number One

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Circle Takes The Square‘s Decompositions, Volume Number One is a record that dissolves boundaries, a journey through time arriving at the crossroads of an epoch.  Blurring the lines between human and animal, earthly and supernatural, linear and cyclical, and creative and destructive, Decompositions sounds like a fevered ayahuasca dream.

Listening to Decompositions‘ stream of apocryphal consciousness is both exhilarating and confounding, much like a classic thriller.  Ambitious and epic, it’s clear why the project took over two years in production to come to fruition.  Sonically lush, musically progressive, and densely lyrical, Decompositions is a Pandora’s box that will be studied for years to come.

A tribal chant sets the tone for the album in the opener “Enter by the Narrow Gates,” a song that bridges the gap between the shamanic traditions of Native Americans and the cacophony of 21st century post-hardcore.  With the help of modern instrumentation, CTTS create a hypnotic, often mind-bending vibe as somber aboriginal-style chanting gives way to a soundscape of slow, crashing drums, distorted electric guitars, and finally, the carnal screams of a shattered reality, welcoming the end of one Earth cycle and the beginning of another. It’s a signature song, and one of their best to date.

The opener flows seamlessly, as does much of the album, into “Spirit Narrative,” a short burst of progressive hardcore with lyrical themes of shapeshifting and animal transformation.  Had they existed in 17th century colonial America, it’s quite possible CTTS would have been burned at the stake for heresy(!)  Background screams from guitarist David Rabitor add to the brutality of the song.

“Way of Ever Branching Paths” is one of the album’s standouts, with bizarre time changes and a much looser feel in parts than CTTS have experimented with in the past.  The song conveys an “order out of chaos” feel, while the lyrics explore esoteric and spiritual revelations drawn from Earth’s archaic history.  Melodic singing from bassist Kathleen Stubelek and drummer Caleb Collins provides a welcome, if chilling break from the din of screams.  It’s also possible to view the song as a metaphor for the diverging lives of the bands’ members, which are geographically spread across North America.

From this point on, the album builds in momentum and intensity, hurtling towards some great unseen cataclysm.  “The Ancestral Other Side” references the ancient symbol Ouroboros in the line, “Through fevered visions, silence devouring its own tail, Unbroken circle, grant us the crisis needed to heal.”  It’s an existential take on music as a therapeutic and constantly evolving force set against the blank canvas of silence.  It’s also a reference to the cyclical, primordial Earth themes that are present throughout.

“Prefaced By the Signal Fires” should remind longtime fans of “A Crater to Cough In,” one of the band’s more epic and heavier cuts from their 2004 release As the Roots Undo.  The track kicks off the second half of the album, flowing into the more contemplative but still heavy-as-hell “A Closing Chapter (Scarlet Rising).”  Here, ominous melodies blend with bone-crushing rhythms and vague prophecies of Armageddon and the end of time as we perceive it.

“Singing Vengance into Being” and “Arrowhead as Epilouge” revisit themes of animism, higher consciousness, cyclical time, and death as transition.  The tension builds with snarling guitars, growling bass and aggressive drums, and the Circle’s token call-and-response vocal stylings of bassist Kathleen and guitarist/vocalist Drew Speziale, before climaxing with “North Star, Inverted.”  The album’s dreamlike, acoustic-flavored finale perfectly bookends with the opener, bringing a long-awaited vision to its epic conclusion.  It’s Neurosis-meets-Mazzy-Star, a goose bump-delivering acceptance of the end, rife with elaborate instrumentation and haunting vocals. The feeling of stark finality is what makes it so special, and arguably the best song of their career.

It’s a stunning accomplishment that often defies description, a true piece of art and snapshot of a band (and civilization) at a fractal boundary.  Through dark times, Circle Takes the Square carry the light of knowledge and self-discovery.


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