[Cover artwork: Antti Klemi]
The decision to leave Kuunpalvelus and switch labels certainly came as something of a shock. Yet, it’s important to realize that Circle of Ouroborus cares about nothing aside from composing and recording tremendous albums. After recording is finished, the entire process is handed off to whomever will make pressing and distribution most seamless for the band. Further, Kuunpalvelus, the label Circle of Ouroborus was on for the last ten years (give or take) has since ceased to be (I believe). Thus, the band was left to find a new avenue of commerce. Unfortunately for American fans, the choice didn’t lie with Final Agony Records, but with newcomer His Wounds, based in Greece. Thus, diehard Circle of Ouroborus fans at Last Rites HQ were left crying over a February 12th release date that promised receiving shipment of your record kind of dangling in the ether. Enter the modern era and YouTube, which assisted all American fans in listening to the brilliance that is Viimeinen juoksu (access to steady WiFi willing).
So, friend, press the play button on the video below and let’s begin this soul-searching journey together. What do you say to that, good buddy? Are you ready for the journey? Got your bag(s) all packed? Got a few nutritional bars in that fannypack? Shoes tied tightly and double knotted? As always, forged permission slips will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
The long and winding career of Circle of Ouroboros has seen them release acoustic, folksy albums such as Veneration back in 2007 and vicious, pummeling albums like Alttarimyllyt in 2015. In between, their releases have twisted and turned, combining both ends of the spectrum and culminating in the 2016 release, Kotiinpaluu. 2017 saw the band release Ruumistähdet, which brought back the traditional fires of black metal intertwined with the atmospheric, natural tinge so important to their unique sound. After that double LP, the band smoothed the edges and released Vangin Laulu, which saw the inclusion of more fuzzy / gaze aspects of instrumentation, with reverb-heavy vocals crooning over black metal snarls and growls. To sum up: it’s been a long, varied career for Circle of Ouroborus, who never cease to amaze in their ability to take risks (that pay off) and introduce new aspects and influences, yet still remain entirely themselves. And that brings us to today in the Year of our Dark Lord(s) known as two thousand and twenty.
Viimeinen juoksu brings much of what Circle of Ouroboros have revealed to be their new nuts and bolts. Fuzz is the name of the game when it comes to gain and guitar distortion. The guitars bob slowly between contrasting, dissonant chord harmonies, creating an undulating feeling that is both deeply unnerving and oddly comforting in the way cows are gently squeezed before being mercilessly slaughtered for their beef or leather or four stomachs or whatever. Beneath the gentle waves of guitar, the bass pops and hums, bouncing harmonically around the dissonant six-string patterns. The drums remain unobtrusively in the background, providing support without ever becoming a back-seat driver. The vocals retain the aforementioned reverb-laden attack—that being the only vocal attack, thus washing the album in a hazy, opaque sheen that hangs loosely between the band and your speakers like a velour curtain.
One vocal aspect that truly shines on Viimeinen juoksu is the sing-songy vocal attack (see “Valmiina Virtaan”). There are multi-phrase passages where Klemi’s vocals affect a whiny pitch that sounds not unlike a guitar or manipulated synth. These vocals are contrasted by harsh deliveries that answer in response with the same disorienting sheen of reverb. The entire effect is to hand the album a gaze-like feeling that is wholly reminiscent of the alternative music of the great 1990s. The drums also take to the ride cymbal in an alternate mashup of indie drumming combined with black metal bass rolls. Similarly to the vocals, the guitars whine and saw back and forth across the track with lead lines that verge on the “pretty” (experimentally pretty) side of metal. The overtly melodic lead lines help provide a timeless nature to the record that seems to have no end or beginning and just exists within the space you make for it.
The intro track, “Yö kestää,” should be an indication of what to expect across Viimeinen juoksu. The track is full-bore drone, setting the stage for the fuzzy warmness that will surround the rhythm guitar work on each track. It’s also the loudest track on the album. Leaving the droning guitars high in the mix (an aspect usually used on Viimeinen juoksu for the opening of tracks) serves to awaken and open the senses in preparation for the experience that follows. It also functions as a theme of sorts as that sound—that exact pitch—will come back time and again across the entire glorious thirty-three minutes.
Contrastingly, the album finishes with its most boisterous assault. The title track’s bass drum punches its way through the overarching softness of the instrumentation to deliver a smacking attack from the rear. The guitar contrasts with soaring lead lines, allowing balance, breath and some landscape affectations. As the track nears conclusion, the vocals layer themselves thickly, nestled between calm bass lines and that ever-undulating dissonance of the rhythm guitars. This layering of styles contrasts the usual attack of vicious harshness followed by sing-songy, almost fairy tale-like clean vocals. And as the album fades to black, the drone of the intro is brought back, tying a ribbon on that timeless, existing-only-for-you feeling that Circle of Ouroborus nails so perfectly.
Aside from being a perfect culmination of a vastly experimental music career, Viimeinen juoksu also provides that heavenly cover artwork pictured above—a perfect visual representation of the music journey contained within. This journey of life is long, my friends. Endlessly long, in fact. We will forever endeavor to propel our bodies towards the horizon of death. We can do nothing else, for progress is our biological imperative. The overall journey, however, is broken up into smaller quests (what up, Zelda?) Some of those quests will be full of color, strong emotions and heartbreaking joy beyond our comprehension. But many of those quests will be somewhat mundane. They will see us trudging through the pale, experiencing a narrow spectrum of emotions—our amygdala screaming out in fear for a respite of safety and companionship. It’s those quivering quests that Circle of Ouroborus’ latest masterpiece is here to accompany. It will be your velour swaddle as you force yet another social experience under your belt, or yet another TPS report into your manager’s inbox. And whenever we receive the physical gratification (in this case, a sweet vinyl record), we will endeavor to find reward at the end of the quest. Viimeinen juoksu is the reward.