Twenty plus years and albums into the long strange trip that is Circle, Manner confirms that they are still a seriously out there band, whose œuvre can encompass punky noise and proggish metal with equal dexterity, a group who are never less than tight and whose playfulness is as convincing as their steely-eyed commitment to the very meaning of rock. This is the band who spearheaded the ever so slightly sardonically-yet-righly-named New Wave of Finnish Heavy Metal, who keep their faces poker straight even while ramming tongue firmly into cheek. Yes, singer/keyboardist/occasional ballet stooge Mika Rättö does dress as leatherman’s wet dream of a Rob Halford wannabe while singing like a demented cross between Ronnie James Dio and Freddy Mercury at his most operatic, but none of those are bad qualities when possessed by Circle. Man-mountain Jussi Lehtisalo is on bass, of course, a Nordic legend made flesh and lung-crushing bone, while Tomi Leppänen‘s unobtrusively pinpoint drumming operates at the point where Jaki Liebezeit crosses over onto the metronomic side of motorik metal. And there really are three guitarists, all of them frequently playing together.All of which is enough to make Circle a fearsome proposition on its own, but this is a band which pulls off the distinct trick of making each and every record fit within their canon – even the folk and ambient longform ones, as does the extraordinarily strange and uplifting synth pop side project of Rättö & Lehtisalo, alongside the confusingly similar yet different lineup as Pharaoh Overlord (possibly one of the best live bands on the planet, as it happens – as of course, are Circle). When a song can work its way out of nothing much more than recursive la la las in several different registers over a winding rhythm and some of the most satisfyingly cheesy FM keyboards ever to swirl out of the Eighties (which “Potero” does) and never once become dull, and then soar off into vocal acrobatics which would keep Magma fans well and truly enthralled while a piano slips in and out of hypnotic focus among the undertow, then obviously they’re doing something not just right, but actually special. How many acts is it possible to say that about, with all honesty? Throw in a naggingly epic cover of “Here Come the Warm Jets,” which pulls Eno‘s tune by the bassline firmly into the kosmische space rock firmament it was already a fellow traveller alongside; and in Circle’s faithful hands the choral elevation rises up even further on the arms-outstretched scale of grandeur, impossible as that might seem to achieve. Even when at their most widdly and rockingly-trousered (here it’s mostly on “Blue King” and “Mustaa Kultaa,” triple double-tapping and feedback-scrawling guitar action included – just see those feet step up to the monitors as the headbanging enters a new level of strobe-lit intensity), Circle cannot fail to impress, not just merely for their copybook presentation of another favourite Eighties template of theirs – that of full-tilt METAL, warts, hair and all – but for the panache with which they expand on an often all-too dumb (and crassly-presented) musical form and make it clever, vibrant and exciting.
The swagger on offer is born of confidence, and Manner slips into place easily as yet another essential Circle release in a catalogue jam-packed with gems. Listening to it over and again, its jawdropping combination of bravado and monster technique is presented with equal amounts of surprisingly modest pride and outrageous showmanship in evidence, proclaiming (loudly and clearly): this is Circle, and this is what they do.