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CIRCLE OF OUROBORUS
ELEVEN FINGERS”
EDITION: CD/LP (500 CD, 300 LP CLASSIC BLACK)
CATALOG NUMBER: HB-016
RELEASE DATE: JULY 2011 LP, FEB 2012 CD
AVAILABILITY: BUY NOW

“Since the beginning, CoO have continually tweaked and refined what they do, further establishing (and enmeshing themselves in) a very particular aesthetic, all without sounding samey. In 2010 they released, among other things, the Current 93-like Cast to the Pits, the droning, blackened Fall-esque depresso rock of Unituli, a split with the post-metal band Crooked Necks, and the Wold-scaped MatterEther EP. The fact that the group is just two guys-- multi-instrumentalist Atvar and vocalist/lyricist Antti Klemi-- gives them a kind of devil-may-care, ready-for-battle gameness. Or, to put in terms of prolific lo-fi peers from a different scene: Since 2004 they've put out records at a Guided by Voices pace. For instance, 2010 alone had close to 10 releases, including three full-lengths, a couple of EPs, a pair of demos, splits. Some are minor, some skippable, all of them pretty hard to track down.

Their newest, Eleven Fingers, is my favorite CoO to date, their best full-length since 2009's Tree of Knowledge, a collection released by Dominick Fernow's Hospital Productions. This new one, mastered by James Plotkin, is out on Handmade Birds, the new imprint by R. Loren (Pyramids, Sailors With Wax Wings). It should also be easier to find than some of the others: The initial vinyl edition of 500 will be followed by a larger CD edition Loren says will likely be available "well into next year," something you don't usually hear regarding a CoO record.

Beyond availability, it's the strongest, most concise example of what they do, a dark and depressive sort of blackened post-punk that also manages to be catchy and anthemic. (The lines, ‘Now I drink the wine and swallow the shadow/ Now I take my knife and slash this landscape apart,’ on standout ‘Shadows Lead’ should also give you an idea of the feel they're after.) Importantly, it's also a record that will appeal to people who don't care, at all, about black metal. As the previously posted ‘Warpath’ suggested, Eleven Fingers spins a darkly cavernous, bizarrely buoyant sound that really is akin to Ian Curtis and mates delving into the kind of black metal that came along after Lords of Chaos. It's raw but deep, and there's a lot folded into its layers: Pair it with Iceage, and it's punk; play it with Amesoeurs, and the more post-metal tendencies surface.

Even on the album's more stationary, droning rants, you get a sense of movement and release, something not always present in CoO's past material. They're better songwriters now, able to offer strong melodies and hooks, not just the originality of the aesthetic. In fact, the push and pull between these seven tracks feels impressively endless-- guitars buzz like synthesizers, drums pull you in with their wobbling rolls. More than on other recent offerings, they've found a way to re-introduce some of the black metal elements first associated with them: On opener ‘The Prayer’, that deadened Curtis bellow is repeatedly interrupted by a full-on growl. Speaking of which, the most integral part of Eleven's upgrade are Klemi's vocals: The submerged, sadsack Mark E. Smith-patterned rantings are tuneful and (surprisingly) emotional. Overall, there's less distance. In the past you sometimes got the sense he was singing to himself in the next room; here, there's a weird connectivity, even if you have no idea what he's howling beneath all the fuzz.

The biggest surprise, and greatest pleasure, though, is that Circle of Ouroborus no longer seem all that weird. Sure, one of the things that's always made CoO interesting is that dogged adherence to their original, obsessively personal aesthetic. (The ‘Ouroboros’ is the symbol that shows a serpent forming a circle by swallowing its own tail. Or, as Klemi bellows in ‘Warpath’: ‘My pulse is my mantra.’) But if you didn't know the history, and didn't follow the timeline, Eleven Fingers would hit you like a great, haunting, moving post-punk record, not the culmination of a march inward by a couple of Finnish outsiders.” –Pitchfork

THE LOST ENTRANCE OF THE JUST”
EDITION: LP (500 CLASSIC BLACK), 1000 CD
CATALOG NUMBER: HB -020
RELEASE DATE: FEB 2012 LP, AUG 2013 CD
AVAILABILITY: BUY NOW

“If the Finnish duo Circle of Ouroborus treated each new release like a band more acclimated to the music industry, you'd probably never stop reading about them: In the last eight years, writer/vocalist Antti Klemi and multi-instrumentalist Atvar have released confounding music on a wide array of labels in most every form imaginable-- singles, splits, EPs, and LPs through invariably finite editions of cassettes, cassette boxes, CDs, 7"s, and 12"s. Their latest, the stellar The Lost Entrance of the Just, is (arguably) their 10th full-length album within a sea of (an estimated) 30 releases. Rather than taking to the music press to explicate their strangely unstable mix of black-metal saturation, post-punk alienation, and pop magnetism, Circle of Ouroborus have simply allowed their voluminous output to weave its own web-like story. By rarely giving interviews and hopscotching between labels, they've avoided aligning themselves with any particular aesthetic framework. They've sounded loud, heavy, and mean or soft, disorienting, and almost amicable; on last year's quietly oppressive Eleven Fingers, they were all of those binaries at once. They've maintained mystery by simply putting out a diverse lot of records. By ignoring the tendency of contemporary bands to create a larger, sellable narrative, they've allowed the music itself to function as the hook.

Which is why it's worth noting that last month the great metal review-and-interview depot the Inarguable Magazine published a lengthy interview with Klemi in advance of The Lost Entrance of the Just, the duo's second album for Handmade Birds, a sterling new American outlet of weird. Klemi addressed the lack of interviews, saying that the dearth was less about fostering wonder and more about saying something only when he had something to say: ‘I want to challenge myself when I make interviews: if I don't have to ponder or even doubt my thoughts and doings, there isn't any use for writing answers that are just verbiage. (Self-) promotion hasn't ever been the goal in these interviews.’ Klemi's other answers solved some logistical puzzles about the band's production and productivity; the music isn't released in the order in which it was recorded, for instance, and the band's constant wobble between sounds is less a piece of a broad plan and more a heuristic approach to making whatever seems most appropriate at the moment. 

Mostly, though, Klemi's responses confirmed what Circle of Ouroborus' expansive catalog had long suggested: This band, its music, and its movement aren't meant for easy interpretation or classification. "We throw different messages, visions, and feelings in the air and people pick their own from the flock-- in one form or another. How do they interpret our music and lyrics doesn't bother me at all," he said. ‘This band is a tool and an opportunity to look this world and also myself from different angles.’ That variegated approach aptly describes The Lost Entrance of the Just, a record that trades the relative frisson of black metal, post-punk, and pop for an amorphous and subtle union of gorgeousness and ghoulishness. From the warm keyboard wind intro of ‘Ride the Wolf’ to the slow sublimation that ends ‘Toivosta Syntnyt’, The Lost Entrance pushes the boundaries of pretty, brightening the corners of very dark music with a faded glow. ‘The Way of the Will’, for instance, races from the gates like prototypical black metal. But like Klemi's serrated, Fenriz-like tone, the music is softened somehow, as though played and heard within a room of padded walls. The theme behind opener ‘Cast in Clay’ seems sighed by keyboards and a chamber ensemble, breathing from the background as if it's an old jazz theme Philip Jeck mixed into one of his austere vinyl collages. 

To an extent, that consistent feeling of immersion is a byproduct of the rudimentary writing and playing that's such a foundation of Circle of Ouroborus. Klemi told the Inarguable that he's not a musician, that he can't even tell when he's singing on or off key-- think Craig Finn, drunk on Mark E. Smith's blood. Atvar, he suggested, is the true musical mind behind the band. In truth, Atvar himself serves more as a role-player, meaning he's competent and functional but certainly limited. His drumbeats are crude, and his effects-laden riffs are simple themes that are deliberately played. That's actually an asset. Because nothing ever needs to leap forward from the mix, like a great guitar solo here or a masterful dream roll there, Circle of Ouroborus create a cradle for total absorption. That's certainly not a new element of this duo's music, but the perfectly gray metal of The Lost Entrance does it about as well as it's ever been done. It's a crypt meant for climbing inside.

‘I am not one of those who seek only life,’ growls Klemi at the start of ‘The Way of the Will’, this record's would-be single. ‘Nor one of those obsessed with death.’ That kernel of self-explanation serves as a fitting credo not only for The Lost Entrance, but also for Circle of Ouroborus as a whole. They are, after all, a band that has remained interesting across several dozens of quickly made, quickly sold-out releases by avoiding easy circumscription-- lyrically, stylistically or ideologically. In a market of one-sheets auto-posted to hundreds of music blogs, Circle of Ouroborus offers a proud, stubborn vortex of the undefined.” – Pitchfork

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