At a time when the screamo genre was in disarray — many of the genre’s innovators had broken up, and the term itself had been co-opted and reassigned as marketing scheme for decidedly un-screamo acts such as Hawthorne Heights — it felt as though the moniker were destined for failure. However, small contingents of artists were making the case that screamo could move in new directions without losing its radical spirit.
Georgia’s Circle Takes the Square found a way to create a progressive sound on the band’s debut full-length, 2004’s As the Roots Undo. Smoothing out genre’s signature quiet-loud dynamics and integrating jazzier, Fugazi-esque transitions, the group found a way to make this discordant style groove. The album’s stellar sonic production — something often lacking in many of the genre’s classic albums — brought the machinelike musicianship to the forefront.
As the Roots Undo won the group massive praise from critics and fans alike, making a suitable followup no easy task. After seven years, the group unveiled a four-song EP — the first in a trilogy — titled Decompositions, Volume I, Chapter I: Rites Of Initiation.
Rites Of Initiation shows that Circle has moved in a decidedly more metallic direction. Opening with “Enter by the Narrow Gates,” bassist/vocalist Kathy Stubelek belts out lyrics that read like a fantasy novel come to life as guitarist/vocalist Drew Speziale chants alongside Stubelek’s guttural aggression. Circle makes use of techniques that were utilized well on As the Roots Undo, but with the intent to create a piece that stands as a unique EP instead of merely a collection of songs.
Each song flows seamlessly into the next, proving that the seven-year recording absence was not in vain.
The lyrics sound more like a Tolkien novel than those from a genre that cut its teeth on raw emotion and political discourse, showing that Circle is playing with all of the genre’s conventions. “There are forces at work here beyond/This Realm of Self in which we reside,” is only a small sampling of the dense lyrical allegories being doled out over the EP’s four tracks.
On Rites Of Initiation, Circle Takes the Square have no interest in repeating themselves. This new EP pushes the group’s ambition even further, displaying that Circle is heading in a direction that few other screamo acts have had the courage, or the capabilities, to approach. With such ambition comes both stunning triumphs and occasionally unfocused moments. Despite the small missteps, which never last more than a few seconds here or there, the EP is an intense first act. At just more than 23-minutes, these songs warrant their length and create a universe all their own. Subsequent volumes in this series have a lot to live up to, but given this EP’s strengths, there is little doubt that Circle Takes the Square is going anywhere but up.
Circle Takes the Square – Decompositions, Volume I, Chapter I: Rites Of Initiation Tracklist:
1. “Enter by the Narrow Gate”
2. “Spirit Narrative”
3. “Way of Ever-Branching Paths”
4. “The Ancestral Other Side”