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Interview with Circle of Sighs

Occult-themed synth-doom collective Circle of Sighs returned with their sophomore album, titled "Narci", released June 4th by Metal Assault Records!

This anonymous collective wants the listener to focus on the fabulous music they create. But they got me intrigued when they revelead they include members from four continents and one is even Portuguese. What? Now I am curious! 

Metal Imperium had an interesting conversation with one the musicians and, despite not revealing too much about their identities, he shared some interesting details with us. If you are intreested in listening to music that is “out of the box”, you should read the interview and listen to “Narci”! 
By the way, the band wants to play at Barroselas MetalFest so I think the organizers should get in touch with Circle of Sighs!  

M.I. - Circle of Sighs is an anonymous international collective. Why have you decided to keep anonymity? Can you give us any hints regarding your identity? Are you involved in any other projects? Are you European?

The obvious reason for anonymity is to put the focus on the music (and visuals) instead of our personalities. Mainstream Music Industry folks will tell you that music alone is not enough anymore; you need to build a clear “brand” and regularly engage your audience on social media. Well, luckily, we exist outside of the mainstream. Metal fans don’t need daily selfies or TikToks to hold their attention. 

But honestly, in this project, anonymity is just as much for the musicians as it is the audience. It’s instant ego death. No one is getting fame, glory, groupies, or guitar endorsements out of this. Everyone fills their role in service to the larger whole. And that can be creatively freeing. 

Everyone in Circle of Sighs is involved in other projects. Other bands, other media. As to our geographic location, our contributors are from four different continents. But without revealing too much I can say that one of the five singers who performed on our albums is actually from Portugal. Of course you didn’t know that when setting up this interview. 

But for practical reasons, the “live” band is currently based in Los Angeles. If we could afford to fly everyone in for every show we would! 

M.I. - According to the press release, your sound will please fans of Yob, Tubeway Army, Pallbearer, King Crimson, Depeche Mode, Thomas Dolby, Brian Eno and Neurosis. Soundwise this is quite varied. How would you describe your sound to those that aren’t familiar with your work?

Our sound is constantly evolving so it’s really hard to sum it up with genre tags, but we try our best. Lately we’ve found that “experimental” or “progressive metal” work best. Of course, we don’t really sound like any of the other bands that use those tags, but, at the very least, with those descriptors, there’s a certain expectation going in. And hopefully that is to expect the unexpected.

The other thing we should point out is that the visual elements are just as much a part of Circle of Sighs as the music. That includes the videos, artwork and also our live performances.

M.I. - The band plays “glitch-pop, prog rock, dark jazz, industrial gaze, and grindcore influences with rich vocal harmonies”. How did you come up with the style “synth-doom”?
Synth-doom is a promotional tool, a genre tag we devised for the first record. And for that record, it fit. But we’ve moved further away from genre and will continue to do so. So we’ll probably need to come up with some new catchphrases for our press materials. We’re open to suggestions! 

M.I. - According to the press, with this album, the band “solidifies itself as a group that defies categorization, bridges dichotomies and summons new worlds”. What’s your secret? How’s the chemistry between members? 

Circle of Sighs’ interpersonal dynamic is based on mutual respect. Everyone who contributes does so because they have a unique skill, a unique voice, or some intangible quality that makes them irreplaceable. Of course much of the collaboration up until now has been internet-based, so it’s pretty easy to get along when you don’t have to share a practice space or cramped van. The “live” interaction of the band comprises people who are friends first and foremost. So hopefully we won’t get sick of each other under the duress of touring. But we’re all seasoned enough to know how that works and not take occasional irritability and foul body odor too seriously. 

M.I. - “Salo” was only released last year. One year later you release “Narci”... did you already have the material ready or did you work on it during the pandemic? 

Narci was halfway written when the first record was released. Of course we had all sorts of grand plans about touring and festivals but that all went out the window due to the pandemic. So we made finishing the second record our top priority. And lyrically/thematically, it was very much inspired by what was happening in the world at the time. 

But we don’t mind working ahead. We’re currently writing material for our fourth record. Which, as you might surmise, means the third one is already more or less done. 

“Narci” is the band’s second album. Is “Narci” short for “Narcissistic” or does it have any other meaning?

It is exactly that, short for “Narcissus,” and ego function is a big part of the record’s overarching theme. 

M.I. - What are the main differences between the sophomore and the debut album?

The first record was more or less a doom metal record with synthwave elements. Thus “synth-doom.” And it was tempting to continue with that template — to more or less cement a “brand.” But the idea of giving in to the modern metal world’s obsession with micro genres was dispiriting, and also boring. 

So with the second record we decided not to concern ourselves with such things. The songs were going to define the sound, not vice versa. I mean it’s hardly novel — it’s what the Beatles did with pretty much every record after “A Hard Day’s Night.” But again — mostly thanks to streaming services like Spotify et al — there is this current obsession with “micro genre.” Less so in pop and hip hop, frankly, but this attitude has kind of taken over in metal. “I only listen to symphonic blackened antifash folkgaze!” That sort of thing. 

M.I. - The album was released recently. What are your expectations regarding it? 

We have absolutely no expectations. Some people will get it, others won’t. We are happy to hear when people appreciate what we do, but we’re not bothered when people don’t. In fact, one of our favorite reviews came from a writer in Germany who absolutely loathed the record! But he at least expressed his distaste in an engaging way. I certainly would want to hear the record he described, even if it’s not how I would have described it. 

M.I. - The band has released several singles straight to Bandcamp. How did people and the media react to them?

Well Modern Music Marketing 101 tells you that in the streaming age, it’s best to release singles in a steady trickle. But we’re not really a “singles” band. We make albums. However sometimes we get random one-off ideas for songs and videos and these are fun to release on their own. People seemed to like them. I’m not sure if “the media” even noticed. 

M.I. - “Narci” is about an eschatological event caused by a digitally communicable mental disease. How did you come up with this idea? Do you think our digital oriented lives will eventually suffer from something like that? 

Well, if the album had been released ten years ago, it might’ve been considered a work of dystopian near-future speculative fiction. But when we were writing the album, it was exactly what was happening! It was especially apparent here in the US. A frighteningly large segment of the population suffered from mass psychosis and were completely detached from reality.

But as scary as it was, it was also quite interesting. We are taught to think of “mental health” as a personal, insular thing. But it’s not that at all. Mental health is rooted in community, and is thus communicable. And the internet has given these mental illnesses the ability to spread worldwide at lightning-fast speeds. 

M.I. - “Salo” included “Segue-01”, “Segue-02” and “Segue-03”, now this album includes “Segue-04”... are they a continuation of each other? “Segue” is a word that means “follow-up” in Portuguese... what’s its meaning in your albums?

I’ll be honest, we completely stole the “Segue” concept from Failure, which is one of our favorite bands. On the CD version of Narci there is also a Segue-05. And these are mostly sound-design-based vignettes intended to move the album forward. Sound design is a big part of what we do, but we also don’t want it to consume the songs, so we try to give our sound designers moments to shine and express themselves without being tied down by set pitches, rhythms and tones. 

M.I. - Of all the tracks included in “Narci”, my favourite is “Narci”. And yours? Which ones do you think will be crowd pleasers? Why?

Narci seems to be the crowd pleaser. That one was a blast to record, but it was also fun to strip away the production and do something raw, bare-bones, and garage-y. We try to be as fluid in our production style as we are with genre.

But I’ll be honest, I don’t really think of “Narci” in terms of individual songs. It’s a complete work with a beginning, middle, and end. There are things we did that I really like, and things I’d like to change, but it’s all one “work” to me. Like a film or a play. 

M.I. - The cover is quite colourful. There are blue insects on the purple flowers and the only thriving flower is the one that’s carved onto the owl. The other flowers have withered feathers. What’s the meaning of all of this?

The cover was painted by Nicole Momaney. We discussed the themes of the album at length before she began painting, so every little detail you see on that cover ties into those themes. I’d rather the specifics remained a mystery, but you seem to have unraveled a few already! 

And again, we consider the visual elements of what we do just as important as the music itself. So “Narci” really would not exist without Nicole’s brilliant painting. 

M.I. - In order to fully enjoy “Narci”, what do you think is the best place to listen to it? Where do you want to take the listeners to? 

“Narci” should be experienced with intent. It should be listened to from beginning to end in its proper sequence, preferably on vinyl or CD. Headphones are fine so long as they are high quality. We don’t recommend earbuds. there’s just too much going on in the lower frequencies that you’ll otherwise miss. Experience it as you would a film. It’s a film for your ears, really. Look at the album cover while you listen and read the lyrics. Enjoy a nice glass of wine, or scotch, or some good herb if you have such proclivities.

Basically, pretend you’re a teenager in 1973 and you just got “Dark Side of the Moon.” Just be sure to give the record your undivided attention. Because you likely won’t experience it correctly if you don’t. 

M.I. - Circle of Sighs released its debut album “Salo” on the band’s own record label Pillars of Creation. Why not release yourselves the second album as well? How did the deal with Metal Assault Records come up?

Starting a label and self-releasing the first record was a wonderful learning experience. But mostly what we learned is that it’s expensive and a lot of work! I’ve known Andrew, the proprietor of Metal Assault, for a few years. He’s also a concert promoter here in Los Angeles and I've done shows for him with other bands. I always liked his can-do attitude and his work ethic. And when he started the label, that work ethic was on full display. He released a record by my friend Cat’s band — Old Blood — and I really liked how he put so much passion into their release. The label was clearly as much an obsession for him as making music was for us. So for all of those reasons, it seemed like a good fit. And we’re very happy with the results.  

We’d actually contributed a song to a compilation cassette Metal Assault released, before our first record had even come out. And our first (and only) live show was the release party for that comp. So we’ve really been working together since the very beginning, even before we were officially a Metal Assault band.  

And one thing I like about Metal Assault is that it’s a METAL label. In the tradition of the labels we  grew up on, i.e. Metal Blade, Megaforce, Nuclear Blast, Earache, Relapse, Century Media. Many record labels these days are so laser-focused on their little niche that you basically know what the album is going to sound like before you get it. And I understand why — a lot of people don’t want to be surprised. They want that AC/DC experience. That’s just not where our heads are at. Metal Assault’s “brand” is quality curation, not a particular subgenre. 

M.I. - Both of your albums have one short word for title. Do you believe short words work better than long titles? Do you want the focus to be on the music rather than on yourselves or the titles of the albums?

The short, two-syllable titles just sort of happened. The first record was about fascism. The second album is about narcissism. Not concept albums per se, but thematically. So the brevity worked. 

But I’m not against longer album titles. In fact one of my favorite albums released this year, by Dr. Colossus, is entitled “I’m A Stupid Moron With An Ugly Face And A Big Butt And My Butt Smells And I Like To Kiss My Own Butt.”

M.I. - The first album include Kraftwerk’s cover “The Man Machine” and this one includes Joni Mitchell’s “Roses blue”. What’s so special about these tracks that made you want to cover them? Do you plan on doing any other covers? Is there a song/ band in particular you’d like to cover?

We like to cover songs that we can make our own. Kraftwerk is a pretty obvious influence on our sound — at least the “synth” part of it — and Joni Mitchell is one of the greatest songwriters of all time. But both of these songs had an untapped “metal” quality to them that was dying to get out. So we let it out! We will continue to record and release covers, it’s one of our favorite things to do! If anyone has any suggestions, let us know. 

M.I. - The band’s costumes are quite interesting. Who designed them? Who created them? Are they inspired in your music?

The “space viking” costumes were designed and built by Kortney Lace, a Los Angeles based artist and our dear friend. And yes we discussed our music’s themes with her at length before she designed them. 
But some of the other costumes we’ve worn were random thrift store or dollar store finds. We don’t want to be married to one look. Devo is a massive influence. We love that they always had a uniform look, but they didn’t stick to one costume. I mean everyone knows the “energy dome” hats, but they had a lot of other looks as well. We’re not trying to be Slipknot here, just Devo. 

M.I. - How difficult and complicated is it being creative, original and unique in today’s metal scene?
It’s an interesting time for metal. Some of the most creative music being made right now is metal. And there are more genre-defying, groundbreaking metal bands out there right now than ever. But at the same time, there seems to be a big focus, mostly on the part of fans, on genre. People build their identities around these little micro genres and thus get really pissed if you “break the rules.” I mean I see it all the time on Facebook forums. “That’s not funeral doom! That’s not blackened folk!” Or people will be searching for music that is weirdly specific. “I want more bands that sound like Monolord but with electric banjo and guttural vocals and lyrics in Farsi.” I mean a lot of it comes down to how music is currently consumed, and that’s by streaming, and streaming platforms are driven by algorithms. But it’s causing people to think algorithmically. And we’d like to do whatever we can to shake that loose. 

M.I. - With covid still here, how do you plan to promote “Narci”? Playing live or on social media?
We did entertain the idea of live-streams but thought better of it. We’d rather make films/videos to go along with the music than stick people with a placeholder substitute for a live show. But as soon as touring is a thing again, Circle of Sighs is going on the road. But be forewarned, what we’re brewing up is not just a typical “metal show” but an immersive multimedia event.  So expect the unexpected. 
M.I. - When you go back to touring, you’ll basically have two albums to promote as “Salo” wasn’t properly promoted live last year. Have you already thought about the setlist?
Yes, we already have a setlist that includes songs from the first, second, and as-of-yet-unreleased third albums. We’re only just out of the woods here in terms of vaccines so proper rehearsals are just getting started, but we’ve got a lot in mind for when the band can finally perform live. It won’t be for the faint of heart. 

M.I. - Many thanks for your time and the freat music! Please leave a final message to Metal Imperium’s readers.

I am going to let our Portuguese contributor answer this question in their native tongue: 

Ficamos à espera de ser cordialmente convidados a participar no Barroselas Metalfest. 

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by Sónia Fonseca