Circle II Circle - _Delusions of Grandeur_
(AFM Records, 2008)
by: Kostas Sarampalis (8 out of 10)
Zak Stevens has managed to carve his own path rather successfully after leaving Savatage. He is undoubtedly a very gifted singer, with a strong voice and a good sense of melody; but such such qualities have never stopped good singers failing miserably in forming their own bands and finding solo success. Stevens' Circle II Circle is the odd exception, with every album being better than the previous one.

"Fatal Warning", which opens _Delusions of Grandeur_, signals a much heavier and more direct sound than the more laid back and emotional _Burden of Truth_. Most songs here revolve around quirky fast riffs, some interesting drumming and of course in the foreground there is always Stevens' vocals. Due to the more or less steady pace of the album, it takes a while for the songs to sink in and come alive. After the initial cherry picking of songs like the catchy "Waiting" with its superb riff and closer "Every Last Thing" with its _Handful of Rain_-like multi layered vocals, the album opens up and grows on the listener.

Perhaps the sound would have benefited with a little bit more oomph in the production of the guitars, since they are placed a little in the background, but this is only a small gripe in an otherwise very enjoyable release. Depending on if you prefer the more introspective moments of _Burden of Truth_ or even Savatage's last couple of albums with Stevens, or you favour more punch in your classic metal sound, _Delusions of Grandeur_ will appeal a little less or a lot more to you, respectively. But there is something here for everyone who likes quality heavy music. Headbanging moments, piano pieces, double bass drumming, and enough riffs to keep you busy for a while.

As an afterthought, comparing the output of Circle II Circle and Jon Oliva's Pain, it seems that Zak Stevens wins hands down. He is definitely a much better singer than Oliva, but in addition to this, Oliva seems to have lost the plot a bit with what he is trying to do with his music. Circle II Circle are much more focused as a band and _Delusions of Grandeur_ evidences this yet again. Without any more Savatage albums in the foreseeable future, Circle II Circle should act as the replacement medicine.


(article published 11/5/2008)

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