Full Circle – Live At Center Stage
(Steamhammer / SPV)
It’s a bit odd, but I’ve never felt that Norwegian progressive metallers Pagan’s Mind have ever gotten as much attention as they deserve. They’re as equally good as the bands they’re compared to, like Dream Theater, Symphony X and Circus Maximus; plus they have their own unique approach to the genre that has always made them stand out from the rest of the pack. If you’ve ever heard Celestial Entrance or God’s Equation, then you know very well what I’m talking about. Speaking of Celestial Entrance, that’s one record that you’ll be hearing in it’s entirety here in this crowdfunded DVD/BD/CD set which was originally recorded last year during Center Stage. But that’s not all you get, as a bonus disc illustrates even more of the band’s very best tunes like “Engimatic Mission”, “Eyes Of Fire”, “God’s Equation” and of course the majestic instrumental performance of “Full Circle.” But while all of this might sound well and good, let’s break it down a little bit and get into the reviewing part of this observation. When I’m approached with a live performance, the first thing I expect is quality. I literally expect the recording to sound just as it would if I was standing in the front row, right next to the speakers. I expect the vocals to carry out through the audience and all of the instruments to have an audible clarity. Being that this is a live performance, it should sound even better than and be performed with a greater sense of conviction than on the albums themselves. While I understand that my demands for such a performance might be exponentially high, it pleases me very much when they are met and even exceeded in some cases.
It is not surprising to me at all when I find that Full Circle has done exactly that, checking off nearly every single box on my list for a stage performance that one would want to own and treasure for the rest of their lives. Celestial Entrance is the band’s sophomore debut, but is regarded as the band’s best, especially by Metal Archives which gave the album a ninety-three percentile ranking out of one hundred (Based on six reviews.) In any case, this is just the album that the band decided to cover and they’ve done it justice. My biggest worry on this record was “is Nils Rue’s vocal performance going to sound as good live as it does on the records?” which was quelled almost immediately after hearing not but a few minutes of the album’s opener “Through Osiris’ Eyes” which blew my expectations away. For those of you who thought he used some sort of vocal programs to make his voice sound so great, that’s a complete load of hooey as I’m experiencing the real deal live on the stage and can confirm that Rue sounds just as fantastic here as one virtually any of the band’s landmark albums. But not only that, he also gets the harsh vocal sections of Celestial Entrance right as the band work to deliver a powerful display of skill that will certainly help to remind you that you are indeed listening to the same Pagan’s Mind who wrote that album over a decade ago. In other words, they’ve still got it and it shows remarkably. For a progressive metal band, the keyboards are always important as are the clean leads which are both offered with supreme clarity and a big budget production that sounds as good as anything you’ll buy live from Dream Theater and finally gives these Norwegians a chance to shine. They prove their worth instrumentally with “Back To The Magic Of Childhood Alone” which makes the awesomeness of the “Full Circle” instrumental an added topping to the cake. I love a record when I can discern every tap of the drum kit, every single lead and bass riff, every keyboard note and every vocal octave that escapes from the frontman’s mouth, which is what I am definitely getting here. You paid for high quality and you’re getting exactly that. Right now I’m playing this through my Skullcandy tuned Laptop speakers, (which sound pretty damn incredible despite their size) but if you can get this release onto a full surround sound system and with an added flatscreen display of the performance, it’s truly going to sound like you’re there… and trust me folks, you want to be there.
There’s literally no use in describing just how great the band are and writing a diatribe explaining how skilled and talented they are, because that’s foolish. Any Pagan’s Mind fan is fully aware of how magnificent these guys are and how they’ve got one of the best damn vocalists in all of progressive metal fronting them. But if you’ve never heard Pagan’s Mind before, you’ll definitely want to pick up this live set as it shows the act performing what is arguably their best recording with as much compassion and coviction as featured on the original disc, as well as some newer cuts. David Bowie’s “Hallo Spaceboy” was also covered here as well, so you’ll definitely want to check that one out. Though what I’ve described as mere icing to the cake in “Full Circle” is considered the standpoint of the record, and from my understanding; it does not exist in any other recorded form as of yet. As for what to expect from such a piece, it will most certainly delight progressive metal fans who have come to expect a certain quality when it comes to overly large and bombastic instrumentals such as this. It reminds me of Dream Theater’s great instrumental pieces, which I’ve always come to admire and will surely sound much better in this live setting than it will on the disc itself. Such a piece was made for an audience and you can’t help but notice the silence of the crowd at this moment, when everyone just seems to be caught in a wave of absolute mesmerism due the sheer incredibility of such an incredible piece of music that would even make the classical composers of metal’s ancestry smile with delight. I feel it is here, on such a profund note as this that I shall wrap up this observation as I once again stress that a sound of such class and precision is indeed proof that heavy metal music can be some of the most intelligent music in the world and considering the nature of most popular artists and quick hooks, it very much is. I could only imagine what such a performance looks like on paper and it’s a sheer wonder that these men can even pull it off. It makes me wonder as to what alien beings would think of our compositions, our art and expression put into such a brillaintly mastered form as I’m bare witness to here. Suffice it to say, Full Circle is definielty one of the best live progressive metal performances that I’ve literally ever heard and captures the genre in it’s purest, most unadulterated form. If you can’t attend a ProgPower festival or just wanted to take one home with you, then you certainly can’t go wrong with this exquisite piece of music and art.