By Sarah Kitteringham
BeatRoute.ca is proud to premiere “Journey Blind,” the title track from the second album by Massachusetts doom quintet Magic Circle. “’Journey Blind’ was the first song I actually wrote for the album, the first song the rest of the guys heard, and the first song we attempted to play, so it kind of set the mood for the whole enterprise. It was definitely a little bit of a change from our first album, there’s more of a sunny sound to it, but I think it’s still tempered with a melancholy feeling, and kind of strikes a balance between those things musically,” says guitarist Chris Corry.
CALGARY — American doom metal act Magic Circle has returned with the follow-up to their triumphant 2013 self-titled album with the slow burning Journey Blind. Despite not being as immediately arresting as their debut, the seven-track release marks an evolution for the band who clearly culls their sound from the British classic doom side of the tracks. Herein lies Witchfinder General and Pagan Altar love aplenty, though channeled through the eyes of five men who have their feet equally planted in the genre of hardcore, where they began their musical journey.
While Magic Circle’s 2013 release was trudging and mournful, and clearly marked by the ancient, proper doom benchmarks like an even mix of instrumentation and vocals, a focus on instrumentation and arresting solos, and above all else, allowing simplicity to reign supreme, Journey Blind shifts towards more range in pacing and vocals.
Opening with the bombastic title track, the bombastic tone of Journey Blind is immediately established. Follower “The Damned Man” is all massive, crashing drums and driving segments with vocalist Brendan Radigan hollering overtop, his oddly nasally, affected voice propelling the squealing solos. “A Ballad For the Vultures” slows down the pace to glacial while “Lightning Cage,” the obvious choice for the first track on Side B of the impending vinyl, begins on a Sabbathian note.
Much like the “Orchid” and “Lord of this World” (featured on Sabbath’s Master of Reality) before it, it begins with a short, beautiful acoustic guitar intro, then leading into a jazzy journey complete with powerful soloing. Later on, “Grand Deceivers” is reminiscent of latter era Pagan Altar with its progressive integrations and stop and go hooks. Closing with the lurching “Antediluvian,” Journey Blind comes to a chaotic, lengthy end as the instrumentation careens into silence.
We’ll come right out and say it: Magic Circle has capped off 2015 triumphantly and with any luck, will appear on a plethora of year’s best lists. To learn more about a band that is admittedly a personal favourite, we caught up with guitarist and recording engineer Chris Corry, who also performs in other projects like Stone Dagger, Mind Eraser, No Tolerance, and more. What followed was a long chat about doom metal, our mutual love of vinyl, and why the album marks a shift in Magic Circle’s trajectory.
BeatRoute: Hey Chris, how’s it going today?
Chris Corry: Not too bad, I’m just in the middle of my day here. I just started a new job a couple months ago, so I’m just getting used to that. I work in a technology centre in the school for the blind, but there is actually no reception in the building. … They have a music studio, and an Internet radio station, where the kids can record music and a bunch of the kids have their own radio shows, and it’s part of our hang out student centre, so there is teen hang outs, and we have a Halloween party next week. So I now run the music-recording studio, which connects to my music background, and I assist on a couple of the radio shows now…. It’s actually really cool. One of my kids is a total metal head, loves Metallica, loves Slayer, so sometimes it feels like we are just hanging out.
BR: Your job sounds excellent. Completely switching topics, Magic Circle has really touched a nerve with people. Obviously, you guys all have experience in hardcore bands over the years, but with Magic Circle you’re tackling another genre. That said, I’ve noticed that several of your bands, such as Stone Dagger, have little online presence just like Magic Circle. Is that lack of online presence an intentional part of your musicianship?
CC: Magic Circle does have a website now, it’s http://www.magiccircleheavymetal.com/, and I think also you can sign up for… a little newsletter, for upcoming shows and stuff, but for me, I’ve been doing bands probably since I was 18. It’s pretty much the same for all the other guys, but when we started doing bands, having a website wasn’t a normal thing. And it’s not like we are super old or anything, we didn’t grow up in the ‘60s, but it just never seemed essential. [What’s essential] is worrying about the record, not doing crazy promotions.
I’m always put off by a band that is shoving it in your face all the time. People know what they like, people are smart, if they like something, they will find it. All of us have been super, super fortunate. [With] a lot of our hardcore bands, we’ll have someone pick up on one [and follow the rest]. Justin [DeTore, bassist], Brendan and I have played together in so many bands and so many one-off projects, and people have followed them. Some people, [have followed us] really loyally. Some people only like certain stuff, but we’ve been super lucky that people are willing to find it themselves.
“Magic Circle, I want that sound like we’re in a basement somewhere, it’s a little bit dark, it’s a little bit moldy.”
BR: I thought perhaps that the band’s reluctance to overdo it on the Internet had something to do with how fans project their ownership over music. Hardcore fans, like metal fans, are very protective of their music. Often when I read reviews of Magic Circle, they often include rather inane phrases such as ‘a band made of hardcore musicians has no business being this good at doom,’ which seems rather odd.
CC: When we started Magic Circle, there was definitely a [concern], “Oh, I wonder if we are just going to get burned at the stake or what.” But with people who are writing a review, their job is to introduce what they are reviewing, to give some sort of shorthand what their perception of it is. So when you introduce it, you have to give the backstory. There is no question, the backstory for everyone in this band is that we all started out playing in hardcore bands, more or less, and most of us still do.
The funny thing is, Dan [Ducas], who is the guitar player, I met him when he was 17 and he was such a little metal head. His screen name was Danthrax. And Justin, when we first started hanging out, we’d be dorking out over the metal Cro-Mags records. Justin was the guy, when I was 20, who I’d say ‘dude I love Black Sabbath, what are the other bands that sound like Black Sabbath’ and…. uhhh. It sucks to be this guy. There wasn’t YouTube, there wasn’t Spotify, it was your fucking friend. And Justin was ‘oh, Trouble, Cathedral, Saint Vitus.’ And I was like ‘oh Saint Vitus, they toured with Black Flag. And oh, Cathedral, that’s the guy from Napalm Death.’ So I guess if anything, we are closest in that way, not in the way we sound and the type of band we are, but Cathedral was that type of band. The original lineup had members of Acid Reign, Napalm Death, Sacrilege, and so I always felt a little comfortable because I could cite precedent. But I understand people are protective of subgenres. Hardcore people are protective too, because that’s your shit. That’s what they are into. What they don’t want is buddy who approaches it without the right amount of reverence and the right knowledge and forethought that goes into it.
“If George Lynch is reading this, call me, because I think you’re fucking cool, and I just want to tell you you’re cool.”
BR: I’m curious about why the album is coming out on CD on November 20th first then later on for the vinyl, rather than just waiting for both to be ready. I always saw you guys as a vinyl band, just given how your previous album is clearly made for the format that has a Side A and Side B. It seems like on this album, the song “Lightning Cage” is almost like your version of Sabbath’s “Orchid” leading into a jazzy song like “Lord of this World,” but put into one track. I love that idea of putting this beautiful instrumental part to start an album side.
CC: I put out a lot of hardcore records. I have a label with two friends that I’ve been doing for about 10 years. And I can tell you that right now, it is just fucking crazy trying to get vinyl pressed anywhere. It is, I don’t know if you do anything like that, or if you are friends with anybody who does, but it takes so long. In a practical sense, [Dave from 20 Buck Spin] was like, “I can have a CD out and the digital out on this day. Vinyl, sometime after that, but not too long, but it’ll take longer.” So it’s just a matter of just getting the digital out earlier. I’m cool with that.
We recorded the album starting last January, and I was done writing it this time last year, and by this time last year we had demoed every song. I’ve already been listening to this album for a year; I just want somebody else to hear it. But, [in regards to records] I’m a record guy. I have my poor girlfriend who just moved in, and its just records everywhere in the house, and I think it’s a bit overwhelming for her. But that’s off topic. I’m a record man. Everything I listen to I think of Side A, Side B, whatever I listen to, new or old. So I always sequence for two sides of a record. And “Lightning Cage” just felt good to start off the second side. I always liked when Tony Iommi, and plenty of other guys and gals too, will do a little interlude type passages. Just a little something to cleanse the palate before the main song. So yeah, it was inspired by stuff like “Orchid” or “Laguna Sunrise” [from 1972’s Vol. 4] or even the start of Witchfinder General’s Death Penalty  with that acoustic fluttering [on album opener “Invisible Hate”] and then the song kicks in.
The Witchfinder General thing… [is] actually the acoustic bit that comes in before ”Lightning Cage.” This song starts with a loop of a short organ piece and some percussion, but just played backwards, and with some audio FX added to it.
BR: In terms of capturing your albums, you guys obviously have a very different approach to recording then say someone like [your vocalist Brendan’s hardcore project] The Rival Mob, or the many other hardcore bands you’re all affiliated with. There is certainly a precedent set by old doom bands that I’m hearing on these albums – this earthy, organic sound as opposed to a layer that puts either the vocals or guitars way too high on the mix, as opposed to a lot of current doom bands who do that.
CC: Yes, definitely, thanks for saying that by the way, I’m glad that someone noticed. So, I don’t like most modern production. I do my best to emulate older sounding records that I like. [British producer and engineer] Martin Birch is my unofficial hero, and the way that he recorded; I was always really inspired by the way Deep Purple recorded Machine Head . The casino burnt down, so they had to record it in a hallway, in a hotel. I was always like, “Wow man, to me that’s fucking cool. To borrow from hardcore, that’s really DIY, man.” They took a mobile truck and just set up in a hallway to make this record, and it sounds awesome. You know, when they were making Rising  with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, they were like, “Oh you know, the drums sound dead. Take them out in the hall, record them there!” And they recorded Cozy Powell’s drums in a stairwell. And so, not to suggest I have anywhere near the mastery of skill as Mr. Birch and his great work with the Purple and [Iron] Maiden families, but that’s always what I’m going for, the stuff that he put together. The way he was able to make things sound very simple and direct but very natural, like you were there in the room with them, it never sounds artificial, that’s what I want. I hear a lot of modern production, you hear that weird clicky razor sharp kick drum, the guitars sound super oversaturated and sound like a System of A Down Record. And whatever, that’s what you’re into, everybody should do what they want and what makes them happy, but Magic Circle, I want that sound like we’re in a basement somewhere, it’s a little bit dark, it’s a little bit moldy.
BR: You guys definitely have Christian lyrical themes and doom is a genre with an abundance of them: they are present in with Sabbath, Candlemass, Pagan Altar, Saint Vitus, and more. You guys seem to have them too, but on this album there is that segment where Brendan is yelling “I Spit on the Face of the Cross” in the second track “The Damned Man.” If you look further back onto your previous album, there is that gorgeous closing line in “Rapture” where he sings “Oh saviours. Oh truth. Oh freedom from Christianity’s womb.” I’m curious about whether you guys are consciously playing with stereotype within doom that there are many Christian themes.
CC: We do. We mess around with it a little bit, you know, I wouldn’t say we are a Satanic band, and we are definitely not…. [Pauses] A lot of people identify themselves now as occult oriented. We’re certainly not, although I’ve read a lot about that. We are certainly not a Christian band either. It’s weird that you brought up “Rapture,” I don’t think this has really been noted anywhere, but it’s actually based on the  H.P. Lovecraft story “At the Mountains of Madness.” So Brendan writes all his own lyrics, all the vocal melodies, he’s amazing. We are really lucky; I’m really lucky to have him as a friend and as an artistic collaborator. So that song, if you know the story, you know it’s about this discovery that you are free from Christianity’s womb because everyone is an alien.
With the divinity and the damned side of Christianity, it’s such a wide scope there, and it feels like it fits for doom metal to sing about those themes from either side. I think he’s always happy to bring that into it and play around with it and make it work for the band.
BR: Speaking of Christian themes, the name of the album and title of the track we are premiering is “Journey Blind.” That seems to be referencing a pilgrimage of some sort. Given that it’s the opening track, how does it set the tone for the album?
CC: Brendan wrote the lyrics, but as I understand them they’re a commentary on people through history that have followed any cause blindly, and they’re really just an illustration of the way that occurs again and again through time.
When the dust settled it just was an easy fit as the opener with the instrumental passage starting things and then the main riff kicking in after that. It has remained my favourite of these songs for the entire songwriting process. I think it felt like a good way to start the record and let people know we’re going to take them someplace different, even though we’re using the same basic elements.
It’s weird that you brought up “Rapture,” I don’t think this has really been noted anywhere, but it’s actually based on the  H.P. Lovecraft story “At the Mountains of Madness.”
BR: From a musical perspective, Journey Blind sounds slightly less doom oriented and more rock ‘n’ roll than your previous self-titled album. It’s just got all these delicious grooves peppered throughout and fantastic dynamics. I’m curious what prompted the shift.
CC: We let some other influences in, just as far as hard rock. There was some different bands, and even just coming off some different records by the same bands we were influenced by on the first album. Someone told me that some of the songs were more joyful, and I feel okay about that. I never wanted it to be all monochrome.
We never set out to be a band like Reverend Bizarre, who I love, but that’s not our trip. You know, we were never going to be this monolith of pure, undiluted doom. We were listening to all kinds of stuff. Even stuff that people wouldn’t expect. Like Justin and Dan are real big fans of ‘70s Aerosmith, and we were talking about covering a song maybe there, and a couple of people noted similarities to the Def [American Recordings] era stuff by Trouble [such as 1992’s Manic Frustration].
BR: As for songs, I really, really enjoy your soloing in “Grand Deceivers.” That song seems right out of the latter era of the Pagan Altar handbook, with that high-necked solo that just rings out for a while. Is there a particular song you really enjoyed?
CC: I just want to say, I straight up cried when I heard that Terry Jones died.
I think the song that sums [up my contribution] best, the song “Ghosts of the Southern Front.” …It’s definitely a song that people have said ‘this is something new you haven’t shown before on previous stuff’ and it has this sunnier vibe to it, and it’s got this nice, laid back solo in the first half, and at the end, it was ‘let’s just go wild.’ I don’t have a professional guitar technique. Everything is just kind of like ‘I think this is how I do this, this sounds like something else someone else played one time’ so I don’t really know how to sum it up. I don’t consider myself a soloist or shred guy. I try to use solos as seasoning, and there are so many men and women out there that are so much better at playing guitar than me.
BR: Doom is really space oriented though and Magic Circle plays on that part of the genre extremely well.
CC: That’s a great thing about doom. You can take just a little bit and use it in all these different ways. You don’t have to be [the guitarist of Dokken] George Lynch or something you know. But if George Lynch is reading this, call me, because I think you’re fucking cool, and I just want to tell you you’re cool. If George Lynch is reading this, that’s good for you and me actually…. Yeah. You don’t have to be like that. Obviously Saint Vitus is such a good band, there is no aspect of anything on their classic records that is anything technical at all, it’s all totally from the gut and it’s all feeling, and that’s why it’s great.
BR: Thanks for talking to us.
Buy Magic Circle’s Journey Blind on November 20th from 20 Buck Spin. You can pre-order the album on CD at http://listen.20buckspin.com/album/journey-blind-2/. The vinyl release is projected for January 2016.AB, Alberta, Chris Corry, Journey Blind, Magic Circle