Circa return after a five year hiatus with a new studio album, Valley of the Windmill. Since And So On (2011) the band has updated their sound and once again changed the line-up with the ever present Billy Sherwood (lead vocals and guitars) and Tony Kaye (keyboards) being joined once again by drummer Scott Connor with Rick Tierney taking over the bass duties. Valley of the Windmill is loaded with four epic tracks, the shortest clocking in at over seven minutes in length. This is the band’s fifth album and I think one of, if not, their best.
Silent Resolve is the second longest track and one of my favourites. After a quiet, ethereal keyboard opening, we get what sounds like a pipe organ which expands and takes over the soundscape. A fantastic opening from a band known for their great starts. Lead guitar, bass and some of the most powerful drums I have heard on a Circa album join in to create a wonderful Yes–like presence.
Then Billy Sherwood sings his first vocals; “Silent Resolve, it will remain like a star, it shines on”, followed by Hammond-like keys, smashing drums and plenty of bass and lead guitar before Billy rips off a solo riff that glistens with elegance. Sherwood sings,
“A long history of fallen tears,
So many years.
No signs of resolution.
History of violence unresolved.
Take more than you give.
Cannot live and let live.”
Yes, relevant lyrics describing historic epics as well as current events. A building crescendo of instrumental bravado fuels the passion these artists use to create an overwhelming soundscape before Billy delivers some of the best lyrics I’ve heard on a Circa album,
“Like winter turns to spring.
Like Saturn holds its rings…in place.
Like water finds its own level.
By nature’s own design
We are resolved to turn the pages
Pointing out our golden ages
Reaching out beyond desire.”
An excellent song full of some of the album’s best lyrics and music.
Empire Over opens with powerful lead electric guitar solos reaching skyward and glittering keyboards following closely behind. Powerful drums and deep bass help balance the high pitched scream. The Gods of war are all over this powerful piece of music. Sherwood sings,
“Pledged to do or die
Marching onto battlefields, awaiting the battle cry.
Campaign after campaign.
Increased by the God of War.
Glory for evermore.”
Like ELP’s Mars, The Bringer of War, without the deep voice of Greg Lake and set at a faster pace, powerful keys supported by lead and bass guitar with stronger drums than I can remember from Circa. Sherwood sings, “Witness to the fall. The empire over” to the close.
The title track opens with softer lead guitar and Sherwood singing,
Waiting for the winds to spin the blades of steel around.
They stand as if defiant
Waiting for the winds.
The shadows cast are so surreal.
The mechanized machinery
Waiting for the wind.”
Yes, nature in control of technology might be the theme, or at least how we can create a balance, a return to the best of what made the past better than the present. Ecological renewal and the hope that wind will be the energy to power our future. As a resident of California, I’m sure Sherwood is ecologically aware and would like to rid places like LA of its almost permanent smog. Sherwood sings, “There’s only one road through us.”
At nearly 19-minutes Our Place Under the Sun is the longest track, and like the closers on previous Circa albums always being the best, this is no exception. Sherwood sings,
“Embrace the calling not your own.
Plotting your course through the unknown.
Ever shifting direction
While you’re empowered by the mystery.
Not all you get is what you see,
There’s more than your perception
Focusing on the future,
Envisioning what could be.
But keeping a perspective
The signs will be there along the way
For your detection.”
all set to some awesome Keith Emerson–like keyboards, banging drums, and shearing electric guitars and bass. And so the journey begins…
The instrumental journey is full of short keyboard interludes, lead guitar climbs, power drum segments and plenty of bass, all led by Sherwood’s singing of the song’s theme, “It’s only human nature to want the best for all mankind”. Sherwood stops for the powerful refrain, “All roads lead to tomorrow. Wherever they’ve come from. Life is moments that we’ve borrowed. Make the most of every one.”
At around 11-minutes you hear some of the best keyboard and guitar combos ever to feature on a Circa album. Wakeman level keys mixed well with Squire-esque bass, it took me right back to the power and mystery of the Going for the One album. It lasts a good minute, but I wish it had been more.
The track closes strongly with one more powerful keyboard and guitar entourage, leaving you interested in hearing what is next. Sherwood sings,
“All the planets aligning.
Future’s just begun.
Pathways to our re-defining our place under the sun.”
This is a great follow-up to the last release and an album that hopefully charts a new direction towards further Circa material in the future.
Get in, sit back and listen. Enjoy the ride.
01. Silent Resolve (14:41)
02. Empire Over (9:24)
03. Valley Of The Windmill (7:32)
04. Our Place Under The Sun (18:43)
Total Time – 50:20
Billy Sherwood – Vocals & Guitars
Tony Kaye – Keyboards & Hammond
Scott Connor – Drums & Percussion
Rick Tierney – Bass
Record Label: Frontiers Records
Release Date: 8th July 2016
Circa – Facebook