"North Star, Inverted"
December 21, 2012 - Self-released
Ah, so this is why Circle Takes The Square took 16 goddamn months to release the other half of their, long, long-anticipated sophomore full-length, Decompositions:Volume Number One: They just wanted to ensure the failure of apocalypse predictions on December 21, 2012, before unleashing their own self-described bout of "apocalyptic punk rock." See, back in August 2011, the band released the Chapter 1: Rites Of Initiation EP, which is actually just Volume One's first half. Now Chapter II: Totem Polaris emerges, completing the conceptual (but largely still vague) plot of the entire album, allowing fans to fully take in the band's first long-playing effort since 2004's lauded As The Roots Undo. (Physical editions are promised in early 2013.)
The concept isn't exactly easy to pin down without background, and the band haven't given us much up to this point. Part spiritual journey, part a hellish Planet Earth TV series in lyrical form, Decompositions at least sounds like co-vocalists (and two remaining original members) Drew Speziale and Kathy Stubelek retain plenty of the band's thematic hallmarks: phantasmal forests in consistent ruin; the overreaching end of rapid industrialization; Biblical and mythological allusions altered as they see fit; and the relentless pursuit of unspecified higher knowledge as the world collapses.
Musically, Decompositions is Circle Takes The Square 101, for the most part: haunting and difficult, almost chokingly dense songwriting that blends practically every type of DIY punk movement of the last two decades and then some into epic, sprawling orchestrations. There are the throat-shredding spasms of early screamo (ever the right-triangle hole to CTTS's square peg); grueling, crustcore atmospheres; sludgy, post-metal chugging; erratic, Calculating Infinity-like time changes, dizzying guitar riffs and grindcore drum fills; and even shockingly major-key, inherently melodic folk (roughly halfway through closer "North Star, Inverted," which will really throw longtime fans for a loop).
While it may be too early to call, Decompositions probably isn't the instant classic As The Roots Undo was. Parts occasionally feel overcooked and loosely fused, and the band don't quite seem to flush out the never-ending buildup of chaos often enough. But these are relatively minor criticisms amid an album's otherwise challenging and rewarding chaos, which boasts some rather incredible, realized moments: the chilling harmonies, acoustic bridging and layered crescendo of opener "Enter By The Narrow Gates," which is ushered in by the band's signature, Native American-style chanting; Speziale's "possessed Conor Oberst" muttering, like on "A Closing Chapter (Scarlet Rising)," and Stubelek's reverberating tone that lies vaguely between Laurie Anderson and a young, miserable Chan Marshall, like on "Singing Vengeance Into Being;" and as a whole, the aforementioned "North Star, Inverted," the gripping, unrelenting finish to the final chapter of a first volume in what fans can only hope will be a series proper—even if takes a decade for an entire sequel to surface.