Review of Circle (Finland) gig

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  1. DETAILS Event: concert of the Finnish band CIRCLE Location: Corsica Studios, Elephant & Castle, London SE1 Date of the Event: 29 May 2009 Word Count: 759 2. From…
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  • 1. DETAILS Event: concert of the Finnish band CIRCLE Location: Corsica Studios, Elephant & Castle, London SE1 Date of the Event: 29 May 2009 Word Count: 759
  • 2. From improbable start to impossible finish, these Finnish metal freaks submerge us in a satire of epic proportions. We suspend disbelief, cast off our cynicism and rock! Circle is a "commune" band with a rotating membership that includes the cream of the Finnish underground (called, tongue-in-cheek, The New Wave Of Finnish Heavy Metal). They've been around since 1991 and have released nearly thirty albums containing a bewildering array of styles and moods. This return to the Corsica stage marks the expected mutation in sound compared to previous performances at the Kosmische club's 9th and 10th birthday parties (Psychedelic and Pomp Metal, respectively). This time they are, by turns, D.C. Hardcore, Doom Metal, Psychedelic Rock and Nordic Folk. However, as always, each of their genre mash-ups are underpinned by stripped-down motorik beats, tripped-out by repetition and sprinkled with magic randomness. Circle have been fronted since 2003 by singer and keyboard player Mika Rättö, a man who resembles a vest and braces-clad drunk to whom a passing Rob Halford has just donated a Muscle Mary hat, aviator shades and an enormous collection of studded leather bondage gear. Much of the time he is seated and entranced, tapping away obsessively at his keyboard, but when he rises to deliver a vocal the atmospheric tension becomes almost palpable. His singing is an absurd operatic warble punctuated by ear-piercing metal screams and absent-minded mumbling in an exotic sounding language that might well be Finnish, for all I know. This extraordinary nonsense is delivered with the kind of sincere, manic intensity that brings on an uncomfortable feeling akin to watching someone suffer a bipolar episode in public. For reasons best known to himself he has recently taken to marching up and down the stage and saluting us like a Pervitine-fuelled long-range patrolman, fresh back from chasing Russians. The drumming of Tomi Leppänen is truly astounding. He's a stick-thin individual who plays a kit of only three drums and appears to hardly move as he pounds out an ever-intensifying hypnotic beat with metronomic precision. He peers at us from behind a Zorro mask and wears a catholic priest cape, naturally, as his hands flick
  • 3. out again and again in psychotic and infantile repetition until we are lifted beyond the mundane into the ultra-mundane and begin to experience rolling on the unending edge. To this melée, guitarist Janne Westerlund brings a carrier bag of musical glue in the form of sub-Stooges riffs that somehow pull all the other aspects together into something that feels, at times, bizarrely like Led Zeppelin. Original Circle member and Finnish underground music's kingpin, Jussi Lehtisalo, is a bass-wielding giant who also sings in two styles traditional to all heavy metal Vikings; the Wagnerian and the Death Growl. He's the main source of Circle's po- faced seriousness that disguises a mischievous sense of self-parody. When he hoists his axe to the sky, strikes an 80s hair-metal pose and launches into a unaccompanied guttural Nordic folk song, we presume it's all about baby-stealing trolls assaulting his grandfather's village in a blizzard but is actually probably an elaborate fart joke. This is followed by Jussi and Mika treating us to an inexplicable display of homoerotic Kung-Fu mixed with ballet, culminating with Jussi lifting Mika in a series of elegant portées. As an encore, the band return to line up at the front of the stage for a rendition of what seems to be a nursery-rhyme sung barbershop style to an piano accompaniment. This is what the Beach Boys would have sounded like if they had all been Brian Wilson. Circle may sometimes appear disarmingly gauche but are all-knowing and very definitely in control. Their music is much more than mere rock; it is mantra-simple and punk-dumb but informed by a deep knowledge of the left-field space. Jazz, improv, minimalism, traditional music, prog, heavy metal and psyche fight it out in a polyethylene bag. Always repetitious, never dull, Circle are telling jokes we'll never understand.
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