The screamo genre can be a dangerous genre for casual listeners to enjoy, especially with a new wave a teens who dress in tight jeans and cry about anything and everything. Fortunately for fans of the genre, Circle Takes The Square revitalize the genre and set a new standard as to what should be expected from future screamo bands. Circle Takes The Square were founded in Savannah, Georgia in 2000 and have made quite a name for themselves since then. Prior to this release, the band released two EPs and word began to spread about the barrage of sound they created and harsh vocals emphasizing smart lyrics. Then in 2004, the band signed with Robotic Empire to release their debut album, As The Roots Undo. Nominated for the best album of the decade by Sputnikmusic, this album takes no prisoners and leaves listeners something beautiful to behold in the aftermath of its violence.
The album's first track, plainly titled "Intro," creates some foreshadowing as to what is about to follow. A nervous whistling in a simple pattern repeats a few times before another whistler joins in the same pattern. The intro is very short and builds a sense of anticipation amongst listeners. The intro is a simple, but also an effective, way to begin the album.
The audio assault starts as soon as the second track begins, "Same Shade As Concrete." "Rejoice, rejoice a noble birth! A prince is born!" Drew Speziale and Kathy Coppola half scream and half announce over a cacophonous rhythm of drums as buzzing guitars lace and intertwine in the background. "Behold the birth of violence!" the next line announces and perfectly captures the tone of the song. There are several tempo changes in this four and a half minute tune that keeps everything sounding very fresh and new. There are also several religious references such as a noble birth (maybe a Jesus Christ reference) and talks of God's will and floods swelling. All these themes will tie together as part of a larger concept which will be explained at the end of the review. As a side note, this is not a Christian band by any means. If I led you down that path based on the paragraph above, you’ve been led astray and will not find this song playing at youth groups.
As the listeners are literally flooded with noise of the previous track, Concrete flows into the next track on the album titled "Crowquill." Crowquill, begins with Drew once again barking over a drum fill and then the guitar is introduced and the track begins to flesh out. There are several tempo changes in this song and a vocal breakdown packed into this song which is under three minutes long. "And my genes did not grant me the foresight of a sage/ but I know how this will end in apologies and regret!" The lyrics on this track, as clarified by the band, are about "traveling down a path towards self-realization only to end wherever you began." This song emits a sense of anxiety and claustrophobia that carries forth the album's frantic pace. This track will become a vital reference point during this review.
"In The Nervous Light Of Sunday" is the next song on the album and continues the theme of growing independence from the previous track. "My dad's favorite novel on top of the pile, in the self conscious first light shake the memory of his smile, igniting these volumes, igniting these volumes I'm warmed by the flames!" The father figure can either be taking literally at face value or can applied to any role model type figure that is respected. You could also make the argument that the father is God and his novel is the bible. Several vocal breakdowns and bitter lyrics help this song become one of the strongest on the record. "Dance to the sound of his weight bearing back f***ing breaking!" Skillful drumming is still on display throughout keeping all the chaotic noise well-timed and enjoyable. Let me just say, if you haven't guessed it yet, the drumming on this album is second to none. It is that good.
"Interview At The Ruins" is the fifth track on the album and is probably my favorite on the album. This track briefly shifts away from the thunderous sound that was previously on display in the album and focuses more on creating an atmospheric soundscape. A slow guitar and piano introduction sweep over the song and create a foreboding mood for the listener. Eventually the song breaks into a harder, but slower paced, song with depressing lyrics to add to the already bleak feel. "Hide the petals underneath the bedroom floorboards, and the will wither without fail or success/ put the people in the hollow box they crafted, close the doors and watch them perish." This track concerns the death of the focal character of the album and is portrayed as a suicide. Following the train of thought of self realization, the character may have killed himself to see what came after death. This would connect to the biblical themes that appear in Concrete. The recordings of a conversation between some kind of authority figure and a friend of the deceased plays in the background during a bridge to give the track an eerie feel. The subject matter compliments the slower harder music nicely and contrasts the softer music played during the tempo changes just as well.
Next on the album, there is another unexpected musical shift. There is a trumpet introduction (possible in heaven?) and the track begins quite peacefully with soft strings being played over top. Over half of this track, "Non-Objective Portrait Of Karma," is an instrumental before Drew and Kathy scream over fast paced guitars. With lyrics like "scratch my back and I will stab you in yours" and "I will have to sink my fangs in someone else's heart to heal my own," the afterlife does not seem peaceful. From this standpoint, the character has not found peace in the afterlife and his life is just as hectic and miserable as it has always been (Crowquill: back to where you began). This track is truly a beautiful standout on the album.
"Kill The Switch" is the next track on the album and is the epic in terms of length on the record. Clocking in at over nine minutes, there is a lot going on within the monster. The music alternates between melodic to an immense wall of sound. "Stitched between the Earth and the sky" the character has not yet found his way in the afterlife. There are lyrics which speak of killing a switch and reaping the fallen fruit of the dogwood tree suggesting that the character is beginning to embrace the thought that there is no right/ wrong or good/evil, but only greed and self motive. This would also explain the anarchy that was described in the previous song happening in the afterlife. It is logical to think that the switch is God or Satan depending on where the listener decides the character appears after his death and the demise of this authority figure in the afterlife is imminent. Kathy's vocals beautiful contrast Drew’s harsh tone in this song and make this an enjoyable listen throughout its nine minute duration. A revolution is being plotted and change is swiftly approaching.
Finally, the album ends beautifully with "A Crater To Cough In." The listener should immediately recognize the soft picked guitar melody that was also the melody of the whistled tune in the intro. This again implies that the character that we've been following has been traveling in circles and is still no closer to fulfilling his quest to enlightenment. The first half of the track is a soft instrumental until the lyrics complete this track and turn it into something truly special. Lyrics of slaves being betrayed and remarks by the narrator stating that "Only the most sacred crater will suit my burial" set the tone for this track. The vocals are performed at a very fast pace which contrast the slow melody of the beginning of the song beautifully. The lyrics suggest that the narrator was able to overthrow whoever the authority figure was in the afterlife and he has now taken his place. However, the betrayed slaves are most likely the army he used to overthrow the previous authority and now the character has become just as corrupt as the one before him. The repeated melody from the intro track indicates that the character has come full circle. The character knows his time is close to an end when he speaks of his burial spot and closes out the album perfectly. When the narrator's implied death happens, it is assumed this whole cycle will begin once again with some new soul making the same journey.
As previously stated, Circle Takes The Square is not your average screamo band and are to be taken seriously. The plot described above is my loose interpretation of the album, with bits and pieces gathered from various other sources. I highly recommend this album to anyone who can handle the harsh vocals and enjoys heavy music. This album is truly a work of art.
Track listing: 1. Intro, 2. Same Shade As Concrete, 3. Crowquill, 4. In The Nervous Light Of Sunday, 5. Interview At The Ruins, 6. Non-Objective Portrait Of Karma, 7. Kill the Switch, 8. a Crater To Cough In
Personnel: Drew Speziale - vocals/guitar, Kathy Coppola - vocals/bass, Jay Wynne - drums, Collin Kelly - guitars