Seven Second Circle
A Song-by-Song Breakdown Review of their album, Divide
So what is Progressive Rock? Well if you ask most Prog fans they’ll tell you that it involves: fantasy, storytelling, adventures, political and theatrical based lyrics, long songs, madrigal themes, orchestration, choir like harmonies, lengthy overlapping guitar solos, sound effects of just about everything, colourful album art covers, odd time signatures and of course, keyboards.
OK fine, but what happens when you come across a band that DOESN’T follow that rule book? What happens when you hear a band break traditions of decades long rule? You get Seven Second Circle from Portland, Oregon USA that’s what you get. Right off the top before you even play the first song, the album cover goes against the grain of tradition but keeps with the faith of their forefathers of Prog Rock. A simple redish sun that takes up the cover makes you clutch your copy of Dark side of the Moon with a distant tear in your eye knowing that it helped pave the way for Seven Second Circle to become who they are today. (Thanks Storm and Aubrey from Hipgnosis and your cover art designs!) The following reading will be a song by song breakdown review of how this band has broken the rules, bent them, re-moulded them and shaped a sound that is the future of Progressive Rock. Like it or not, this band has revolutionized a sound that has been in the deserving light it should be in for some time now. Yes there are other bands of the genre that are also doing this Neo-Progressive sound and they too hold their rights and footings in the Annals of Neo-Prog. Bands such as; Airbag (Norway), Newspaperflyhunting (Poland), Steven Wilson (former Porcupine Tree/Blackfield) (UK), Nice Beaver (Netherlands), Pineapple Thief (UK) et al. but in the United States there has been a silent movement on the grow for some time now with Post Rock bands like Grails also from Portland and Red Sparowes from Los Angeles who have taken Progressive Rock to a faceted level of instrumental film noir style. Seven Second Circle combines both of these elements in their debut album Divide giving the listener a chance to expand their minds in a different way than the corporate whores of mainstream pop culture has dropped on us repeatedly for the last few decades.
Progressive Rock rose out of the ashes of the psychedelic era at the end of the sixties with the likes of The Doors, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead etc, who they themselves exposed some elements of Prog in their music but it was the movement from the UK and Germany that paved the way for generations to come that the world would know as Prog Rock! You know who they are so let’s move on.
Seven Second Circle doesn’t ignore their roots in their debut album but they don’t emulate or imitate their forefathers of sound in any way rather they have themselves rose from the ashes of the albums that were handed down to them from generations of older siblings, parents and family members like that crazy uncle who had every Pink Floyd album and would blast Ummagumma at 6a.m. on a Sunday to his backyard garden begonias! What we have now are bands like SSC who have stood before their albums at parties and solitude listenings gone by and brought forth a sound that makes the Old Guard of Prog fans sit up from their egg shaped lounge chairs and say, “What is that sound?!” Myself being one of them who albeit doesn’t have that eggy lounge chair but from where I was sitting and first heard the first notes of Fracture and it made me play it over again like putting the needle back at the beginning of the record because you want to know what just crushed your senses in to a fury of excitement! So let’s have a look at this album and see what you have been missing!
I give you, DIVIDE, a Song-By-Song breakdown of Seven Second Circle’s premiere masterpiece.
The opening notes to this song are like a battering ram of angry visitors from the north at your castle gates hammering their way to get it. Within seconds they’ve broken down your gates and are pouring their way through your mind’s courtyard spilling their sound throughout as if a tsunami of electrical waves just flooded your senses. Snarling guitar and thundering bass are accompanied by drums that are the running feet of warriors forcing their way in. The vocals are an assault of this electrified track in a way that you listen, I mean LISTEN to the singer while he belts it out as if on a crusade for truth and deliverance from the spineless voices that pollute the pop culture airwaves known as commercial radio. There’s no forgiveness here rather a no words barred attack to your brain as he tells you exactly how it is. Yet mid-way we are given a few blessed moments of soulful interlude by the band to pull the song back and a myriad of vocal layers and harmonies come in to play to carry us through the spoils of the song’s beginning. What is great about the harmonies in this song and any of the others on this album is that the band did not go in to a self-indulgence of operatic vocal layers and harmonies like that of pop-pseudo-prog stadium rockers Queen with their cake frosting overkill on multi-layered vocals. Seven Second Circle keeps their harmonies modest and clean with simplicity at the forefront to carry the song to its sublime crescendo ending.
I chose not go in to a lyrical explanation here or any other song because lyrics are to be determined by each individual listener but I will say this, vocally Seven Second Circle delivers a man who fully compliments the rest of the instruments here.
A cocktail that shakes and stirs you to take notice and heed to what he is saying. You hang on to every word as if it’s being played out in a courtroom of sound and the verdict is Fractured, what you feel like after the eight minute plus epic comes to a send-off ending of harmony and fade away as if the band sets sail to the next song to wreak controlled havoc on the lands before them, the internet with its never ending electrical lands of discovery and outreach to the world.
After the Fall
The guitar walks in beautifully to address the mood followed by a vocal that matches the tone equally and they flow as the remainder of the band enters in about halfway.
It’s a ballad that exposes the band’s softer side and consideration for the finer things in life such as mellow gardens and calm waters. The vocals mirror the lyrics of exposure and sentiment. Again, take what you will from this song but it rings out true and sincere as the song never reaches a big climatic ending where traditional Prog songs may have ventured in to with extended solos. They kept it simple here and it gets the message across without having to delve in to anything elaborate. Sometimes you don’t need a lot in a song to be a powerful and effective driving force. Simplicity says mountains at times, unnoticed and free. This song does just that.
The ethereal acoustic guitar opening haunts throughout the song and the drums add in the windswept cymbal rolls and kick drum of what sounds like distant thunder rolling on the razor’s edge. The bass crept in without noticing it right away like that unwanted guest at your last house party, complete radiance. The guitar calls upon a snarl taste of fuzz to offset the balance of the acoustic refrain. Building up to a level of saying here we are but is anyone listening? Of course we are but the song has you wondering if you really are or just seeing the wind carry it across the desert. The vocals are strict and concise here with a delivering consistency that keeps the song on guard for all its changes. The halfway point comes in with an aggression mark but quickly let’s go of it and returns to soothe our cranial mesa plateau only to get one final belt out before closing the door to end it. This song takes you on a journey where you want to go and don’t want to go but like a rain storm in the forest you stand and watch it fall and rise amidst the chances of being struck by lightning.
The skies in this song turn from gray to black to blue and back to gray again. The song leaves you with a feeling of ambiguity if it really is a blue sky ending or as I felt, a gray overtone of uncertainty wondering where I go from there. Several listens to this song always left me with this feeling because of the arrangements made to it. Brilliant how it transforms from light to dark several times during the songs five minute ride. Like the song says, “I didn’t ask for this.” Vocally strong and the harmonies here remind me of a duality struggle of the mind. It becomes a very schizophrenic fight from the unbalance that the song’s timbre reflects throughout and it’s that skirmish of the mind where the vocals are in a schizoid dilemma telling you things you aren’t sure you are ready to hear yet. I love the Jekyll and Hyde approach to the song here with both the vocals and other instruments playing both parts equally light and dark.
Straight out of the gate the vocals commandeer the song with a soulful caress of sound like that of a troubadour on his journeys throughout the villages in the land crooning about the trials and tribulations he has seen. Guitar riffs that cut in a like a distant birdsong in the distant trees accentuates the vocals here bringing in a collective wave to a chord progression that gallops like a steed in the fields undisturbed by the control of man. In the likes of the neo-prog movement this song bears the weight of what the new sound has become and is a shining example of how a little goes a long way again. The melancholy of the song comes to a grinding halt around the 3:50 minute mark where we are assailed by the rest of the band here and a dark foreboding overtone rings throughout. The unrest here gives you unsteadiness in your seat and you feel the urge to stop whatever it is you are doing and listen to it again. Great Depression is a good example of any kind of depression that can and does occur. Not sure if this is a personal attribute to a memory gone by or a swansong to address the world’s state today. Is it a sadness that you can relate to? Absolutely but you are comforted in knowing that the song speaks to you softly and then screams at you to; wake up, take notice, shut up, change, stop talking, listen, hate, love, cry, and finally stand up and scream to the world that you will take no more from it. The strife will leave you as you stomp your first steps in to the mud as the song comes to a crushing standstill and the last hits of the snare drum are the final shots fired. Either from your hand or in your mind, Silence.
This song breaks out and just gives you an onslaught of forcing sound that creates waves of electrified air in the room. Aggressive guitar and a punch to the guts-straight-out power tune. Nothing soft about it here just the raw sound that SSC knows all too well. Like an irregular heartbeat, it decimates the aura that was hanging around waiting for something to happen. Stops and starts in the song launches you forward to see if your cassette tape is chewing up when you split second realize you haven’t had tapes in over twenty years. Get back in to your headspace now and let this one just rattle your brain a while. Seering guitar, pounding bass and viking drums set the mood for this unnerving rocker of Prog’s new style to relinquish nothing but a satisfied taste in your mouth by its abrupt ending. Vocals that upswing and drop just as fast causing a stir of questions to where is he going with this because you want it back but the vocals sideswipe you just when you least expect it. The drum fills and rolls here are tight and damaging as they should be for a song of this nature. The bass rides the rails all the way through the song with a tempo of hate and abhorrence with a destination of a deranged driver at the wheel. Guitar work that gleans through a haze of fuzz induced psychosis with an obsession that states its point of view whether you want to hear it or not. Concise and never stopping to smell the flowers here which is exactly what you want from this song from the three instrumentalists because the vocals are hailing down with them and they make their own paths here. Short, sharp, sweet and to the point, Softly comes across like razor blades and sandpaper strewn across the causeway that you need to be on the other side of. Just under five minutes is all it took to state their point of view and left us in the dusted and motionless in the desert.