I have a very distinct memory from my early childhood: six years old, waking up from sleep as my father opens the door, singing—of all things—the opening lines to “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath:” “You see right through distorted eyes / You know you have to learn.” And this was no one-time thing; that was how I woke up for school for years.
Black Sabbath’s music, and specifically their fifth album Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, holds a massively important place in my heart. It’s a collection of monster guitar riffs, bizarre spacey soundscapes, pounding drums and running bass lines. And in my almost thirty years of seeking out and soaking in music, I’ve never found a record to match or even come close to giving me the feeling Sabbath Bloody Sabbath does—until Magic Circle dropped Departed Souls.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Departed Souls is pure Black Sabbath worship, but Magic Circle hones the worn edges of doom metal with crisp production and smart composition. Heavy guitar riffs drive many of the songs—the slow, grinding opening of “Valley of the Lepers” sounds like an undead army waking from sleep. The band often lets rhythm take the spotlight, letting their chord progressions and dynamic changes do the talking. Yet Magic Circle is no stranger to melody: the chunky chorus of “Nightland” soon lands in a harmonized and syncopated bridge that borders on operatic, and “Gone Again” peppers a trembling Rhodes and delay-drenched noise among booming distorted chords. Magic Circle invokes the essence of their forebears rather embodying it, giving me all the gritty riffing I’ve ever loved with a distinct flavor that I can’t find anywhere else.
One track that stands out among the sludgy chord progressions and fanatical drum fills is the folky and adventurous “A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares.” In contrast to the screaming overdrive dominating the rest of the record, this tune spotlights a layered acoustic guitar that jangles across strange picked chords. The bass guitar booms like a bright light flashing in the distance, sitting perfectly within the rhythmic improvisations of the hand percussion and tabla. Brendan Radigan’s vocals bloom like solar flares amid the ethereal arrangement, their delivery powerful and moving amid the much gentler instrumentation. Magic Circle extends beyond the tried-and-true doom with “A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares,” creating a colorful and charismatic oasis amid this record’s mountains of brooding grooves.
One of my favorite aspects of Departed Souls is its vicious lack of pretense. Magic Circle know exactly what they’re about, and their songs reflect this honestly. Yet for all my listening, I can’t find a single flex or “look at how talented/cool/original we are” moment, and that’s insanely refreshing. Don’t get me wrong here: their performances are rock-solid, and they’re all clearly extremely talented. But the main thing I hear in these pentatonic riffs and esoteric lyrics are five musicians having a blast making their music. And there is truthfully no better sound.
Departed Souls may not burn with overt originality, but the overdriven guitar melodies and resounding vocals are more than enough kindling to light a fire under even the stuffiest metal fans. From front to back, it keeps me impulsively banging my head without break, the same way Sabbath Bloody Sabbath has since I was in kindergarten. Magic Circle invokes the gods of doom metal on their latest record, writing songs rife with dynamic shifts and grinding rhythms that keep me enrapt throughout. It’s a truly enchanting piece of work, and without doubt will remain in my rotation for quite a while.
My Top Track: “Gone Again”
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Departed Souls is available through 20 Buck Spin Records. You can stream it on Spotify or grab your own copy on Bandcamp.
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