World Circus Review
Man is a curious creature, more often than not playing the fool while thinking himself a genius in the process. In the late 80s there were many a thrash metal band trying to truly capture and even caricature this basic social axiom, culminating largely in a punk-infused version of the formerly dark and occult-obsessed original that took Malcolm “Scruff” Lewty to heart about metal lyrics being stupid. While there was nothing really wrong with taking this crossover approach, it was often done without any accounting for subtlety, much like a number of the crust punk bands who eat, drink, sleep and shit anarchy while eschewing musicality to varying degrees. For those who sought a new, intellectual angle for seeing man as the witless court jester that he is, there were few musical answers that did so in an overtly thrashing manner, and arguably the most intense and utterly insane of the pack was the New York spawned Toxik.
Naturally there are some bands who had a parallel musical approach to what Toxik was experimenting with, but often didn’t match their lyrical savvy or didn’t quite commit to ruining necks to the degree necessary to rival the hardliners coming out of the Bay Area or the Teutonic scene. Agent Steel’s “Unstoppable Force” was arguably the only album from the same year to truly embody the same level of musicality and intensity, but said band was largely curious about conspiracy theories and science fiction, which I’m sure good old Scruff might not have dismissively referred to as stupid, but probably wouldn’t have deemed worthy of “the cause”. Watchtower, on the other hand, was on to generally similar lyrical subjects but never quite achieved the insatiable, thrill ride musical experience as captured on “World Circus”, though they did land quite close to the ultra-progressive territory hit on Toxik’s heavily lauded follow-up “Think This”.
But historic diatribes aside, “World Circus” stands as an outright masterpiece for the issue that the previous paragraphs were dancing around, namely the musicality and intensity factor. When superimposed on the thrash style, intensity tends to lend itself to images of Dark Angel bursting out of the grave at light speed on “Darkness Descends” or Slayer cruising into the abyss on “Hell Awaits”, or even bullets flying at high velocity in rapid succession as on Sodom’s “Persecution Mania”. The album in question manages to frequently hit such level of intensity, but also does so with a stalwartly power metal character, namely on “Door To Hell” and “False Prophets” where the same level of speed and fury comes with a high pitched banshee wail that matches that puts Warrel Dane and Geoff Tate on notice and a riff set that is melodically closer to the older Iron Maiden paradigm and sugared over with a lot of technical gymnastics.
The whole of this album doesn’t really qualify as progressive in the same way as the one that followed it would, as even the slower material on here follows a fairly methodical, straight-line formula that is simply sexed up with fancier detailing. “Social Overload” presents a sort of upper mid-tempo rocker with a side order of Judas Priest that is more power metal than thrash, but still manages to come off as animated and busy in spite of playing off a simpler model. The lone grooving number “Pain And Misery” listens close to a slightly more frenetic answer to Crimson Glory’s “Masque Of The Red Death”, whereas the half-ballad “47 Seconds Of Sanity/Count Your Blessings” sort of hits like a more intricate answer to the quiet turned deadly format heard out of Nuclear Assault’s take on the token ballad, which is a song that starts slow and then slays like the rest.
When this band is at their absolute best, however, is when they prove to be at their most out of control. The greatest occasions of glory to be found are, therefore, when this band makes their boldest attempts at breaking the sound barrier and speed/thrashing it up as if the hybrid nuclear power plant/circus tent on the cover were ushering in the end of the world. The opener “Heart Attack” and the slightly more elaborate closer “Victims” both accomplish this metronome destroying state of madness brilliantly, all the while retaining a strong, solid rhythmic precision that allows vocalist Mike Sanders to belt out those high notes at his leisure, and he definitely takes every occasion to do so. Anyone looking to mimic the vocals on either of these two songs will have their work cut out for them, not to mention a few broken blood vessels in their heads if they’re not careful.
Ultimately, this is just a damn fun album that also manages to be politically aware in a way that will satisfy all of those damned punk rockers who are too busy moping about how much life sucks to enjoy a good Sci-Fi or horror flick. Corrupt world politics, pollution, nuclear annihilation, and all that other stuff is here for all to savor, though Sanders’ vocals are so wildly attention grabbing in themselves that even if he was reciting cooking recipes the masses would still be sending their fists into the air in approval. Yea, there is something in this album for just about everyone, save those looking for a modern sound given that the production on here is about as overtly 80s as it gets. Ever wonder what Agent Steel’s and Dark Angel’s marriage might birth? Give this a listen and call me in the morning after you find your head.