Personnel: Michael Eriksen (vocals); Mats Haugen (guitar, programming, background vocals); Lasse Finbråten (keyboards, sampler, background vocals); Glen Mollen (bass guitar, background vocals); Truls Haugen (drums, percussion, background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Christer-André Cederberg.
Recording information: CM Studios; Ocean Sound Recordings.
Editor: Oyvind Larsen.
Photographers: Anja Sofie Nedler Haugen; Alex Hoel.
Arranger: Circus Maximus.
For a band whose first album -- 2005's rather unimaginatively named The 1st Chapter -- was modeled so closely on Dream Theater's melodic progressive metal blueprint, Norway's Circus Maximus experienced very little resistance from the brutally judgmental prog metal intelligentsia. And for one simple reason: they wrote some amazing songs -- better at times than Dream Theater, in fact, so there! However, these merits did not crystallize quite so unambiguously on the band's sophomore opus, Isolate, two years later (all of the key ingredients remained in place but the resulting musical algorithms just didn't add up as perfectly), and then, worrisomely, Circus Maximus' third long-player, the cryptically named Nine, endured a half-decade's gestation before finally being unveiled in 2012. Well, it seems that the members of Circus Maximus were merely biding their time, honing their new songs to optimal condition around strong melodies, singable choruses, and, yes, copious instrumental woodshedding before unveiling them at last. All of that woodshedding takes charge of several longer, more involved tracks ("Architect of Fortune," "Last Goodbye"), as you would expect, but is sprinkled more judiciously into the surprisingly large number of concise, radio-oriented numbers (the forceful "Namaste," the inspiring "I Am," etc.) that thoroughly dominate this album. Yet, no matter how uncomplicated and radio-friendly the latter become at times (and "Game of Life" and "Reach Within" are essentially metal-free offerings, shredding guitar solos notwithstanding), the album's consistently brainy, at times even recondite lyrics, serve as a constant reminder of Circus Maximus' certified nerd quotient, culminating in the excellent "Burn After Reading," with its curious love triangle between a mysterious woman, a scholarly archaeologist.and his rocks. Rocks? Which begs the obvious question (heck, why not?): does Nine actually rock, and the answer is "you bet!" -- though it comes with a level of production gloss and songwriting finesse that may leave harder-boiled metal heads unmoved and fans of prog that actually, you know, "progresses," less than totally impressed. Judged entirely upon Circus Maximus' career-long sonic aesthetic, though, Nine roundly delivers the goods, and the long wait only proves that the band knew they'd better deliver. If not, they would become just another Dream Theater clone, after all. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia