4.5 out of 5 Stars!
Sweden’s A.C.T is such a difficult act (pun intended) to describe. In many ways, the group brings to mind ’70s/’80s Pomp Rock/Art Rock bands such as Aviary, City Boy, and Sparks, and you can almost imagine the best ingredients of those bands being somehow tossed into a blender and poured out into the new century with modern-day production techniques bordering on perfection.
The group has a quirky uniqueness and often-brilliant song arrangements, vocal harmonies, performances, and songwriting, the type of band where no matter how many times you listen to its albums, you will always notice something bizarre you hadn’t noticed the previous times, something hidden in the shadows of each track that has eerily and magically appeared to enhance the experience.
Circus Pandemonium, the group’s fifth release after a lengthy break, is another top-notch offering. As the album title indicates, this is a circus-themed concept album, a dramatic and majestic collection of linked tunes with endless and catchy Pop melodies floating atop dynamic Symphonic-Prog arrangements, not too dissimilar from what one might hear on albums from groups such as the aforementioned City Boy, or It Bites and Spock’s Beard, with a touch of 10cc and Queen merged in, and often as theatrical as a rock opera or a cross between the genres of Broadway musical, cabaret, and vaudeville. In fact, fans of Saga’s grand concept album Generation 13 will probably find this album of great interest since it often has a similar sound and atmosphere.
And like any daring and industrious concept album worth its weight in ambition, throughout Circus Pandemonium, various voices and circus sounds pop up to either bridge several tracks or enhance the ambience of others and further the storyline. The lyrics here are generally dark, despite the rather upbeat rhythms and bright chord patterns on many of the tracks, yet a creepy vibe nevertheless infiltrates several tunes as the story’s main character comes to grips with his fate as being held captive as an exhibit in a freakshow by its sinister circus manager. As I said, creepy, and altogether intriguing.
Yet regardless of the dark theme, Herman Saming’s vocals are as peculiar and delightful as ever, as are the grand and layered background vocals, while Ola Andersson’s lead guitar insertions and Jerry Sahlin’s numerous keyboards, synths, and orchestrations prove melodically and bombastically riveting, like always. Simultaneously, the rhythm section of bassist Peter Asp and drummer Thomas Lejon keep the proceedings tight, yet often surprising with periodic tempo shifts or unexpected breaks and fills. And as displayed on A.C.T’s previous albums, the group’s collective technical skills are outstanding, far superior than most groups of the Prog-Rock genre.
Yes, A.C.T is indeed one group difficult to pigeonhole, with each of its albums providing high levels of creativity, and Circus Pandemonium proves that in spades. In the world of Progressive Rock, this group is not even close to being the “same old, same old,” and fans of the genre craving something different should investigate the band forthwith. I, for one, pray that A.C.T never stops delivering more and more of its truly eccentric and invigorating material, which always equals fresh blasts of aural greatness to my often-jaded ears.