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Circle/Pharaoh Overlord
Pharaoh Overlord/Circle Richard Fontenoy , June 1st, 2015 12:45

Pori's favourite pranksters have along history of making things difficult for their listeners, but in the most enjoyably, obfuscatory way possible. This was the band who leased out their name to an entirely different group of hard rockers for the space of 2013, taking on the name Falcon (ex-Circle) for the duration of the loan of their identity before recovering their name as Circle (ex-Falcon).

Keeping track of Prince between becoming a symbol or returning to using a name like mere mortals seems straightforward and sensible by comparison to the various Circle band members' myriad of interlocking and self-covering musical identities. Here, they're simply Circle once more, except their new album is dubbed Pharaoh Overlord, in honour of their stoner rock(ish) side project; but, just in case all that's not yet confusing enough, Pharaoh Overlord are releasing an album called Circle at the same time.

What Circle haven't changed is their leftfield approach to music-making. Ever keen to mix and match apparently disparate formats until the notion of genre (a bit like band names) becomes more than a little blurred, Pharaoh Overlord brings Juho Viljanen's superbly stentorian horns into the group to dizzyingly honksome effect. Close-order crooning and wailing are the chosen vocal style here, vocalist and Judas Priest-idolising, leather-clad frontman Mika Rättö leading the group in uttering some of the finest harmonies available to space cadets everywhere, not just Finland.

The five tracks unfold on an ever-rolling undercarriage of groove and repetitive figures, unmistakably Circle in aspect yet freshly minted. The band pull off their uncanny trick of reinventing themselves sonically as well as by name once more, propelling towards new and surprising directions. Their mood here is ecstatically out there, the brass taking the sway and swoon on a stepping promenade into a world where jazz funk and kosmische mantras lock together in a delicious union of head-bobbing delights.

When Rättö gets his scream on, the frissons really start to fly, his animalistic yelps belted out with the purgative joy of primal scream therapy for the avant-garde. His performances here are at once terrifying and ecstatic, his tonsils almost audibly throbbing with each unthrottled vibrato while the band loop onwards through a sequence of blissed-out interlocking concentric orbits. It's often easy to invoke the spirit of Can in extended jam mode with both Damo Suzuki and Malcolm Mooney singing at their most radically emotive heights, and there's more than a hint of Magma's intergalactic jazz once again (they've always being cool enough for Zeuhl); but Pharaoh Overlord is also unmistakably Circle from Janne Westerlund's first drone note via Jussi Lehtisahlo's languid basslines to the last shivery yell, and show that the group are at their peak, no less.

Leaving the oddest to last, Rättö sings in what sounds like English, Latin and/or Italian on the closing 'Madonna Of Viggiano', a peculiar and quite lovely cruise through rolling drone rock plateaux underpinned by Tomi Leppänen's sensual cymbal slides and horizon-fixated drums. Here, Circle are at their most pulsatingly spiritual, invoking a liturgical chant while intoning the repeated line, "I hurt you...".

Pharaoh Overlord are a wholly different yet extraordinarily similar proposition to Circle. Pharaoh Overlord is not, as might be assumed, a set of covers or variant mixes of Circle. Instead, they invoke the endlose gerade (endless straight) rhythms and almost jangly guitar brightness of NEU! and Harmonia which made their first three albums such dancefloor-friendly groovers. As a result, there's often less startling originality on hand here than Pharaoh Overlord; instead, what Circle offers is a waypoint on the continuum of post-motorik music played as a joyful exemplar of how it can be done, even if perhaps without much in the way of stretching the envelope en route.

Synthesisers ripple and trip all the analogue fetish switches while Westerlund's guitar flecks and shimmers over the trance propulsion below, keyboard swells hitting the shivery chords as if made for laser-lit sways on the dancefloor. As with the template for such things that Michael Rother laid out in NEU!, Harmonia and solo, the point at which the new age is achieved is constantly on the cusp of tripping in, but always skilfully avoided while remaining determinedly cheerful throughout the band's longform excusions.

This Pharaoh Overlord do by the simple expedient of applying the very same single-minded  determination which makes Circle so much more than the sum of their myriad influences. So by the time 'Villaa' comes around, the mood has slipped into the discotheque, all claps and stomping machine and human beats slinking out into what could possibly be dubbed Finno-disco, the heady aroma of smoke machines and the refracted glare of the glitterball blurring the the senses deliriously.

Pharaoh Overlord and Circle are like a pair of suits cut from the same cloth, one svelte and assured, the other spangly and with more than a little flare to the trouser legs. The former has an air of suave mystery and sartorial elegance, possibly dressed to kill, the latter smells slightly of poppers and is comfortingly, comfortably familiar, set up for an easygoing night on the tiles.

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