Norway’s Circus Maximus have been around since ’05, when they began playing a style very similar to that of Symphony X. But times have changed and so has their sound, which here has changed focus from that of a hefty power/prog act with elements of thrash, to something more akin to hard rock. From what I’ve heard here, you can’t even really classify them as a metal act anymore. Havoc is without a doubt, a progressive hard rock record and it’s certainly geared towards a much larger audience. In some ways, one might even say that these Norwegians have sold out to the popular style. Even so, Havoc is certainly not a bad album and contains plenty of meaningful progressive experimentations, which give such chorus heavy earworms like “Highest Bitter” a notable sense of merit. You’re not just listening to an alternative rock song, you’re listening to something closer to that of Rush albeit with a bit more thump in the instrumentation.
Yet now, I’m afraid that I’ll have to eat my words almost completely. You see, as we continue to listen to the disc while jumping past all of the shorter numbers, we’ll soon notice that progressive metal tracks (albeit still lacking the thrash from their earlier discs) are indeed present and have just been thrown directly to the back. “Loved Ones”, “After The Fire” and album closer “Chivalry” all present the exact definition of progressive metal and do it beautifully, with more than enough room in their lengthy playing times. In fact, each one of them spans right over the eight minute mark, with one in particular very close to nine. Yet it is there that we find the band we remember. Even though “After The Fire” begins with an odd electronic setup, it surely rolls into a classically influenced metal cut, same as the others. Setting this aside, I soon noticed that I have a very BIG problem with Havoc and I think you’re going to share the same sentiment. Featured on the record is of course, the title track and you might be surprised to hear that not only does it sound like it doesn’t belong on the record, it doesn’t sound anything like Circus Maximus at all. Additionally, you won’t be hearing anything else like that particular track anywhere else on the album. In other words, it’s an absolute piss-poor representation of a disc that is hardly “havoc” to begin with. The song in question is literally nothing more than a slogger of groove and blues that sounds more like something you might get from Saliva or Monster Magnet. I’m not kidding. While I’m all for experimentation, this is like putting a bubblegum pop song on a black metal record. You can only imagine how well something like that will go over.
Suffice it to say, while Havoc delivers in it’s progressive moments which are defined heavily through the album’s use of keyboards, electronics and skillfully delivered guitar selections, I don’t feel that there’s enough for people to chew on. It sounds like a band confused up to the point where they don’t even know as to what kind of act they should be. I’d heavily compare it to Dream Theater’s The Astonishing in the fact that while both albums have the right approach, they both failed to really catch hold of me. So far, 2016 has been a really bad year for prog and this long-awaited Circus Maximus record is further proof of that. Haken’s new album is set to come out as well, so I’m hoping for possible better luck with that one. If you’re still on the fence, I’ll say that Havoc is definitely more of a “listen to a few tracks first” before you buy it sort of thing. (The Grim Lord)