The Strange World Of... Circle
, May 13th, 2014 06:46
Jussi Lehtisalo, founding member of Circle, guides Kevin Mccaighy through highlights of their bewilderingly large back catalogue
Playful, preposterous, virtuosic, relentless: these adjectives only go some way to describing the multifarious beast that is the Finnish experimental rock band Circle. Founded in 1991 in the coastal town of Pori by founder member Jussi Lehtisalo and original drummer Juha Ahtianainen, Circle were a remarkable proposition from the outset. As Lehtisalo would later explain, their early live performances were rituals "to do with nudity, symbolism and blood…sometimes the whole band would perform in [fluorescent] body paint", and the glacial post rock of their debut album Meronia (Bad Vugum 1994) was distinguished by his unique "Meronian" vocals, "a kind of onomatopoeic uttering that has a meaning for those who want to understand".
The group's unerring sense of motorik propulsion and sheer devotion to the riff over a succession of albums won them international acclaim, most notably on Andexelt (Metamorphos/tUMULt 1999), Prospekt (Ektro 2000) and Taantumus (Bad Vugum 2001), a key trilogy of albums that brought the group face to face with audiences outside of their homeland on a regular basis. This writer will never forget their astonishing, epic live set in support of Acid Mothers Temple at the Brudenell Social Club in October 2001. Their reputation as a live act is second to none: led by the fearsome presence of bassist/vocalist Lehtisalo and the banshee wail keyboardist/vocalist Mika Ratto, (memorably described by Lehtisalo as "an inhuman creature preaching front of a playing wall"), Circle's ability to integrate the outer limits of improvisation to their thrilling riff-based rock forms earned them a legion of devoted fans around the world.
By 2002, the band had taken a drastically new direction, oriented around a core group of Lehtisalo, Ratto, drummer Tom Leppanen and guitarist Janne Westerlund. Sunrise was their signature release of the new decade – a powerful, more metal-oriented spectacle that unleashed a mighty force within the band that permeates everything they've produced ever since. For all the allusions and comparisons of Circle to the likes of Magma, Judas Priest or This Heat, the influence of Krautrock legends Faust is the most important. The German outfit's sense of mystery, their outlaw status, and sheer sonic pranksterism of their recordings are object lessons in non-conformist experimentation. Circle's career has been just as challenging, seemingly veering from one genre exercise to another. From minimalism (Miljard Ektro 2006) to punk (Panic (Ektro 2007), from the confusing Guillotine (Ektro 2003) to near-unclassifiable (Katapult (No Quarter 2007), all the while remaining utterly themselves.
Not content with one band, the plethora of splinter groups and side projects undertaken by all members of the band simply beggars belief; a dizzying raft of bands with names like Pharaoh Overlord, Ratto Ja Lehtisalo, Krypt Axeripper, Ektroverde, Aaviko, Lehtisalofamily, Split Cranium Moon Fog Prophet and Steel Mammoth. In 2013 Circle challenged the very nature of itself by entering into a year-long name swap with Finnish metal band Falcon, becoming "Falcon (ex Circle)". The release of their new album Leviatan (the 44th album of their career) sees them (partially) revert to "Circle (ex Falcon)". A rustic, folk-based release, it is entirely in keeping with the unique nature of the band. As Lehtisalo once put it, their music "is an impulsive action which happens together and in influenced by positive energy".
Here are a list of some notable Circle albums. Sunrise (Ektro 2002) ambient Circle; Miljard (Ektro 2006) motorik Circle; Prospekt (Ektro 2000); Guillotine (Ektro 2003) live Circle; Raunio (2002) extraordinary vinyl streak; Empire (Riot Season; Mountain (Kevyt Nostalgia, Super Metsä 2005); General (Kevyt Nostalgia, Super Metsä 2005) punk Circle; Panic (Ektro 2007) metal Circle; Hollywood (Ektro 2008) unclassifiable Circle; Katapult (No Quarter 2007); Rautatie (Ektro 2010); new album Leviatan is their 44th album.
Circle (with Bruce Duff on vocals) - Hollywood (2008)
"Circle's Hollywood was as "commercial" as The Residents' awesome The Commercial Album in its day. We're artists and we despise commercialism, though we wallow in the same pond with culture industry's "products".
"I've been a huge fan of Bruce Duff since the late 80s. I'll never get tired of praising Jesters of Destiny's album Fun At The Funeral, which was released in 1986. The album meanders somewhere between peculiarity and amazing classic rock. It is one of the most impressive albums I've ever heard, and my mission is to get as many people as possible to listen to this masterpiece.
"The album's sardonic strangeness speaks to me in a way that Flann O'Brien's novel, The Third Policeman, did when I read it long ago. I wrote fan mail to Bruce in the beginning of the 00s and offered to re-release Fun At The Funeral as a CD. And now I've just re-released it as an LP as well, just a couple of weeks ago! Circle played in Los Angeles a few times, and while we were there we met him every time. All of this culminated in Roadburn Festival a few years ago, when Circle/Pharaoh Overlörd performed with Bruce Duff, playing songs from Jesters of Destiny's Fun At The Funeral, Circle's Hollywood and Pharaoh Overlörd's Out Of Darkness. I am sure that we'll be collaborating again in the future, and I hope we'll get to play gigs together as well."
NWOBHM/NWOFHM Stage Wear
[Circle often wear leather, spikes, spandex and bondage gear on stage]
"It is easier to access deeper stages of "consciousness" through ritual. We're operating in the discomfort zone in order to open up to the unknown and to evolve. We wear stage costumes because we look good in them, and we are blinded by our own self-confidence."
Circle Documentary Film Saturnus Reality
"Saturnus Reality is an exceptionally clear and documentary portrayal of the way Circle records are made and the way we spend time together."
Circle - Mountain (2004)
[Mountain is a live album mixed in an unorthodox manner]
"Mountain is 'more authentic' [than a standard live album] in the same way as cross-lighting portrays the subject better than a raw and direct spotlight. 'Reality' consists of different kinds of truths, and the outcome is often very abstract. Mountain is a kind of mash-up of how one's own hearing and conception diverts us from truer being, and how our own recollections and aesthetics demand repetition of auditory images and memories. Mountain takes into account four separate things, mixing them randomly.
"1. There was a C-cassette recorder circling onstage recording lo-fi sound of the stage presence through its own mics.
"2. In the back of the hall, there was a MiniDisc recording device by the mixing desk recording ambience sound from the large space with all its slams and noises from the audience.
"3. Close-up sound was recorded straight from the mixing desk. There were a couple of mics placed in front of the band and for the vocals.
"4. My own arbitrary way of mixing, where decisions have more to do with muddling reality up than lamely organizing it.
"These are my vague memories of the birth process of the Mountain album. I apologise if I have caused a huge disappointment to those who were there and have been nurturing their impressions of the gig."
Live Shows At Supersonic Festival
[Circle were on the bill of Supersonic in 2006 and 2011 in various forms]
"I'm 100% sure that I would be a Circle fan, if I didn't play in the band. Circle is a terrific band that combines fine arts, stumbling in rubber boots, unrecognizable superiority of otherness, notorious rock & roll, and ecstatic self-disgracing. We are a marginal band who are easy to discard and painstaking to follow. But I'm glad there are obviously some people out there who are, year after year, inquisitive enough to check out what we are doing by buying our albums and coming to see us play live."
Circle - Sunrise (2002)
[In 2002 Circle were described on one of their own gig posters as "like Judas Priest crossed with This Heat"]
"Sunrise was admittedly a kind of gate to experimental hard rock. We tried hard to make a classic rock album, but during the mixing process things got a little out of hand. I had no limits as to using distortion or blending several mixed versions together, adding raw mixes on top of attempted final versions. At that time, I wasn't yet completely at home with digital technology. I got different mixed versions in my hands, and for some mysterious reason they were different in length. The start and end points didn't match. I was using tape manipulation to create songs that started out sturdy and solid, but totally fell to pieces towards the end. On the other hand, some of the songs took off unclear, and then, minute by minute, became more coherent, showing up straight in the end. This notion evolved into an idea about a time warp, which eventually turned out to be the omnipotent soul of obscurity that runs through the whole album. From here it was easy to continue to the acoustic album Forest (2004) and the confusing Guillotine (2003).
Circle - Six Day Run (2013)
[A solo album by Jussi designed for runners to listen to
We tried to regress back to the early 90s with the drummer Tomi Leppänen, and freeze in moments experienced before. We did cover versions of ourselves and retroed our own youth, which, thank God, doesn't exist anymore. Music is more advanced visual art. It does not visualize; it just rides in time for a while and then disappears completely. The music cannot appear subsidiary to the image, so we didn't look anywhere, we just rocked on like crazy. Circle is a work of art, which we serve with joy and piety until time ceases to exist for us.
Falcon (ex Circle)
The idea behind changing our name to Falcon (ex Circle) in 2013 was to put the final nail in the coffin of Circle and to lose everything for which we'd had the pleasure to work for years. It was a kind of relieving to lose the Circle brand, a kind of final disgrace. Growing up, shifting priorities towards business and life's realities. Using the acquired professional skills to one's own benefit.
The Circle (ex-Falcon) brand was just recently returned to us and we recorded a new album, Leviatan. We'll carry the burden learned from Falcon as if we had studied in a School of Economics for a hundred years. In our live shows, for a few fleeting moments, we'll dig up the reality of commercialism and culture industry truly embracing us and providing us with bonuses covering the expenses for the rest of our lives.