Circles of Sighs are a band with a mission and a vision. “Occult themed, anonymous progressive synth doom audio-visual collective” might sound like a mouthful of a bio, but there isn’t really a better way to describe them or their much-anticipated debut album Salo. The band caused a stir within the underground scene after their track “Burden of the Flesh” debuted in January of this year, and based on overwhelmingly positive feedback, they went straight to work on an album that is set to push the boundaries of doom while still being easily accessible.
Purposefully tight-lipped about any personal details involving the members, the band has gone on the record saying they prefer to let their music and visuals speak for itself. While they forego the personas that their contemporaries who wish to remain anonymous build up, they hide their appearance with an impressive amount of costuming, makeup and pageantry, the kind of theatrics that I think this kind of metal needs. It plays right into their occult and cosmic themed music and lyrics, tying the whole package together in a way that breeds hype all by itself. The music does do a lot of speaking, though. “Digital beats, downtuned riffs, harsh keyboards, and warm tube amps” is how the band categorizes the approach to Salo, and that’s one facet of it, but there’s also the acoustic guitar and upright bass sections, synth interludes, soaring vocals and even a Kraftwerk cover to throw in as well. There’s a lot of different pieces being fit together here, but Circle of Sighs manage to craft something that both respects the classic doom formula while still playing in the space and taking a lot of liberties with experimentation. The groundwork for the songs is a Ghost-meets-Pallbearer brand of old school flavored doom, and from there the band throw in influences ranging from NWOBHM riffing (“Unicorn Magic”) to power metal vocals to jazz and folk passages (“Hold Me Lucifer”) to krautrock and synthpop (the title track and “The Machine Man,” their sludgy Kraftwerk cover).
The pride of the band’s sound is the synths they bring in to add depth and atmosphere, so much so that they describe their sound as “synth-doom.” You can’t deny that they are there, but for a band that branded itself as such, I can’t help but notice that the synths are not really at the forefront of Salo. With the exception of interludes and a couple songs that are all electronic, most of the instrumentation on the album is the standard guitar, bass and drums. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I can’t help but feel like something is missing that was supposed to be there in a lot of the songs. The upside to that is that this ended up being a much heavier album than I was expecting. The guitars are crunchy and thick thanks to the tube amps, the drums are heavy and driving, and there are killer riffs aplenty, especially in standout track “Burden of the Flesh.” Still, Salo also lacks a lot of the depth I was hoping for without that extra flair. Maybe this is a case of expectation not meshing with reality, but I’m just the tiniest bit let down by the fact that the synths seem to be mostly used as transitions when I would have loved them to be a more consistent part of the overall sound of the album.
On the whole though, Salo is a really solid doom album and if you look at it as such, it’s definitely got a lot going for it. Look for the synths to add little touches of ambience and punch in places, and revel in the huge aesthetic the band puts out there. They’re holding off on live shows now, for obvious reasons, but as soon as they can get out there, they’re worth checking out for the stage show alone, let alone the nasty riffs. If you’re inclined, don’t forget Bandcamp is donating their profits from this Friday the 19th to the NAACP Legal Defense fund. Pick this one and maybe 20-30 other albums up.