From its endless line-up changes, stylistic about-faces, myriad spinoff projects, band identity swaps, and ransacking of rock iconography, the only thing that has remained constant about Finnish experimental giants Circle is their own existence. Over a remarkable 23-year career, and an ever-bewildering and prolific back catalogue, the band has maintained its questing, searching spirit, with Jussi Lehtisalo as their bass-wielding guide pushing them onward to ever greater horizons. And so it is with their 52nd and latest album. Circle have reached many great heights over the last two decades, but this new album again attains a new zenith.

Let us begin at the beginning, with the opening monster track ‘Rakkautta Al Dente’. Powered by one of the densest riffs the band has ever conjured up, it sees the Circle guitar triumvirate of Janne Westerlund, Julius and Pekka Jääskeläinen in full cry, creating endless layers of gilded melodies and furious scrappage. The sleek, clean line of attack is reminiscent of their 1994 post-rock debut Meronia, allowing the immersive qualities of one simple riff to envelop and overwhelm the listener. Mika Rättö’s inimitable vocals, one of the band’s greatest weapons, are serpentine, at once conspiratorial and grandiose. Every aspect of the six-man machine that is Circle is firing on all cylinders, but even this veteran admirer was astonished by the title track and its breathtaking raid on the territory of The Stooges. The infinite nature of riff-making can summon the most elemental solutions – Terminal is one such beast, a glorious retooling of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’ as a 21st-century motorik classic, a brilliant transformation of a rock cornerstone into one of the most immediate and enchanting pieces Circle has ever created. Ron Asheton’s brute force intensity is fully embodied by Janne Westerlund, and ‘Sick Child’ is his signature piece, alternating between yet another bountiful garage rock riff transplanted to a progressive rock climate. His ragged vocals apply constant pressure to the track’s blinding simplicity. ‘Imperiumi’ is where Mika Rättö stakes his claim once again as the most compelling and histrionic singer in contemporary rock. Across a lithe beat and minimal rhythm, he cuts a fiery pose – straining and exulting, displaying his underrated ethereal skills on the keyboard. Lehtisalo’s prodding basslines and Tom Leppänen’s cool metric drumming are the albums’ dual anchors, a consummate study of intertwining skill and concentration. ‘Kill City’ is explosive, from its breathless synth/acoustic shimmer to Janne and Mika’s hoarse vocal duel, weighed down by a riff that never lets up until the delicious, stuttering minor key coda soothes everyone’s brow.

Circle are the quintessential ageless and inquisitive outfit. Their desire to push against their own boundaries, and even throw some of their heroes into that process, in order to creative something this forward-thinking and futuristic is remarkable. When all and sundry have miraculously decided to raise their game and make 2017 a classic year for records by musicians both in and decisively out of the mainstream, Terminal is an unquestionably essential release.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today