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Perfect Circle, A - Thirteenth Step
Label: Virgin Records
Release: 2003

1) The Package
2) Weak And Powerless
3) The Noose
4) Blue
5) Vanishing
6) A Stranger
7) The Outsider
8) Crimes
9) The Nurse Who Loved Me
10) Pet
11) Lullaby
12) Gravity
Thirteenth Step - Perfect Circle, A
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A Perfect Circle- Thirteenth Step


     A Perfect Circle is somewhat of a commodity in the music industry. Super groups generally are pants, often burning to the ground due to collisions of differential musical tastes and ability. Therefore, when looking at A Perfect Circleís new line up one might wonder how Thirteenth Step turned out to be the great album it is.

     Twiggy Ramirez, former bass player of Marilyn Manson, joins the line up this time, replacing band sex symbol, Paz Lenchantin. If you study Ramirezís musical past, you would question whether or not he could stray from the rhythmic and elementary bass riffs to accommodate the eclectic style of music that A Perfect Circle produce. Yet, you must not fret over this for long, Twiggy Ramirez does wonders on the album, making him an essential member. Veteran guitarist of the now the now defunct Smashing Pumpkins, James Iha is also a new addition to the band, but he did not arrive in time to play on the album, therefore all guitar is handled by Billy Howerdell and since departed guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen.

     The album opens with The Package, an over 7 minute epic reeking of a passed over Tool song. But, Tool similarities aside; it is a very strong song and a perfect start to an album that continues to build as it goes along. The album hits its highpoint on the sinister Pet. Here Maynard paints a picture about being undervalued and misunderstood, with a chilling chorus of ďlay your head down child, Iím not the boogey man/ count the bodies like sheep to the rhythm of the war drums/ pay no mind to rabble..Ē

     This album offers a much softer sound than their debut, Mer De Noms. You wonít be rocked to the core with by songs like Judith or The Hollow on The Thirteenth Step; there are no songs that are relatively energetic all of the way through. The album takes each song and kicks out the highs and lows at very appropriate parts, creating a perfect blend of music for almost any moment.

     Depending on your musical preference, you might not like The Thirteenth Step as much as Mer De Noms. However, it is immensely clear that A Perfect Circle have grown, and this album will put to rest any doubts that they can be consistently great.

Reviewer Rating of CD :

When I went out and bought this album I had a rough idea of what to expect. Given the distinctive sound of the bands fantastic debut album 'Mer de noms', I felt very little apprehension before buying this. The same can't be said for when I bought the late zwan's mary star of the sea.

So I went home and stuck on thirteenth step for the first time and lay on my bed. And from listening to it throughout the day I have acquired quite a taste for it. Thirteenth step is a marvellously crafted piece of artistry that whilst not completely breaking any boundaries, it has distanced itself from the first album quite a lot and surprisingly so I might add. There is nothing remotely catchy about this album in comparison to mer de noms. Not to say that mer de noms was catchy, but it was certainly more accessible. The first thing that struck my whilst listening to thirteenth step was how deep it is. More thought and time is required when trying to gauge an opinion of this album.

In short what I am trying to say is that this album truly proves that a perfect circle are not merely a 'tool side project', but rather a completely separate entity with its own distinctive sound and musical direction. One of the most interesting aspects of this album, is how it manages to do this even though it retains certain characteristics of tool. This is undoubtedly due to Maynardís genuine contribution to the song writing process this time round. The drumming is worthy of particular mention as Josh Freese proves his un-paralleled versatility as a session drummer. It is easy to see why he has worked with more 100 artists despite only being in his early 30ís. The drumming always corresponds precisely with the mood of the music and he always keeps it fresh. The drumming can sound very tool like and actually sound sometimes like Matt Cameronís drumming on superunknown.

Mer de noms was essentially a collection of brilliant concepts drawn up by a perfect circle's bald genius, Billy howerdel. In my opinion he had made a master-piece. However it was in essence written over howerdel's years as guitar tech for Nine inch nails, Smashing pumpkins etc etc. In turn, the album sounded like a collection of compositions with a similar consistency. So the problem for A perfect circle was how to maintain a quality of song writing on par with mer de noms. So what they have done is taken a completely fresh approach to the new album. The result: A fantastic record with a much more natural and organic feeling to it. The album is best listened to as a whole rather than in separate tracks. Because of this, I find it near impossible to predict the next single. 'Weak and powerless' was an obvious choice for it isn't much of a radical departure from their debut's sound. With regards to the others, it is less easy to say.

In my opinion, highlights of the album would include 'Blue', 'a stranger', 'the ousider','the nurse who loved me' (this wasn't written by Keenan or howerdel) and 'Pet'. Classic moments of the album are reminiscent of 'mer de noms'. The heaviest song on the album 'Pet' has an intensity and aggression towards the end much like in 'Magdalena'. The impact of the chorus in 'weak and powerless' reminds me of 'the hollow'. The only tracks which truly disappoint would have to be 'crimes' and 'lullaby'. The former sounds much like the random noise at the start of 'head down' by soundgarden only it is continued throughout the song. Lullaby is much the same in being repetitive and quite laborious to listen to. These are only minor discrepancies however and are far outweighed by the ton of brilliant material on this cd. The most difficult part of writing this review is giving it it's rating. I hope my rating of 8/10 is fair.

All in all though, this is a very genuine and well thought out album which if not being able to surpass it's big brother, has picked up where he left off.

Ben O'Driscoll

Reviewer Rating of CD :

Recent news has been focused on the new APC lineup, with Smashing Pumpkins James Iha on guitar, and former Marilyn Mansion minion Twiggy Ramirez coming back from hell to play bass. But really, the focus should be on the new album instead, one of the best rock releases this year.

A change of direction from debut album Mer De Noms, Thirteenth Step, as you would have heard and read, is atmospheric and moody. As far as I'm concerned, this a good thing. Billy Howerdel and Co. have now blown away any possible Tool comparisons (I'm indifferent to Tool anyway), and presented us with a album that draws you in, enveloping you in soundscapes of despair, desolation, yearning and fears.

The stand-out track in this album has got to be the heartbreakingly beautiful "The Noose". Billy Howerdel's immaculate use of delicate, chiming delayed guitar lines paint a picture of pain and fragilty. And just when you are off guard towards the end, the song explodes into a powerful, emotional chorus. Maynard James Keenan's vocal delivery in this song is at its most vulnerable, making this one of the most honest, heartfelt song I've heard in years.

Other strong tracks include the opening "The Package", an epic that slowly builds up to an explosive barrage of guitars and strong drumming by Josh Freese, "Blue" (opens with a wonderful shimmering guitar progression), "The Outsider" (a return to the heavier Mer De Noms sound) and "Pet" (here, Maynard sings, interestingly, about protecting a child from "the boogie men" and "war drones").

You know what, this album made me think of what the Deftones would've, should've, could've achieved after the brilliant White Pony, rather than the immensely disppointing self-titled effort. Unlike the Deftones, A Perfect Circle have now truly brought rock into a new level.

Don't think about it, go out and get what could well be the best rock album of the year.

Reviewer Rating of CD :

The Thirteenth Step can confuse you: at first listen you can believe that this is an experimental Tool album, This of course being because of the unchanging and recognizable voice of Maynard Keenan. Although the music can also seem similar at times, The Thirteenth Step is nothing new or special, and the music and structure within has been done over and over by many goth and industrial acts. However, it isnít a bad formula and maybe there is a reason that it has been done so many times. The musicianship is as strong as any other band doing the same thing in the right way , although this may not be their most formidable start, every band has to start somewhere, and it could have been a lot worse. The Thirteenth Step is a step in the right direction for a band that now just seems to get better and better with every release.

Reviewer Rating of CD :


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