A Perfect Circle – Mer De Noms

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Album Review by Mark Bayross

A Perfect Circle is an alternative rock fan’s wet dream. The band was formed by Billy Howerdel, former Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins and Tool guitar tech, who enlisted the help of Tool’s enigmatic singer and lyricist Maynard James Keenan. As such, A Perfect Circle’s credentials were established even before they played their debut show at LA’s Viper Room last August.

Produced by Howerdel and Alan Moulder (NIN, Smashing Pumpkins, U2), MER DE NOMS more than lives up to its promise. The first and most obvious question people have been asking about this is whether it sounds like Tool. The answer is, obviously, yes. Maynard James Keenan has such a distinctive, other-worldly voice that he could sing the hits of Kylie and make them sound like Tool.

This, of course, is a very good thing. Maynard’s vocals lend A Perfect Circle’s songs an intensity and drama that elevate them way above much of the alt-rock sludge out there, simultaneously innocent and malevolent, damaged and enraged. Fortunately, the rest of the band rise to the meet him, creating a sonic backdrop of equal splendour – just listen to the shimmering guitar of MAGDALENA and the beautiful strings at the end of ROSE (bassist Paz Lenchantin also plays violin).

The first single to be taken from the album, JUDITH, is a good summation of the sound of the album: a taut powerhouse of searing guitars, rumbling bass and demented vocals, with a melodic, soaring chorus. Maynard sounds wired into its hook-laden tapestry of guitars (courtesy of Howerdel and ex-Failure guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen). Another stand-out track is THINKING OF YOU – where a chunky bass and huge-sounding guitars are underpinned by layers of electronics and Maynard turns in an even more unhinged performance than usual.

The production throughout is faultless – rich and heavy, funky and melodic. When not meting out turbo-charged rock, MER DE NOMS is happy to change down a few gears and cruise along with chiming guitars and the odd keyboard part filling out the sound. Paz Lenchantin’s violin adds even more colour to the psychedelic kaleidoscope of RENHOLDER, and a majestic touch to the acoustic 3 LIBRAS.

MER DE NOMS is good enough to match Filter’s phenomenal TITLE OF RECORD for crossover appeal, although given the talent involved, its success is already assured. Tool fans will love it, whereas people who found them too oppressively dark will find much more to enjoy here. MER DE NOMS is a spectacular carpet-bombing of guitars and swirling melodies, topped off with one of the most unique voices in rock.

A Perfect Circle is not Maynard’s new band – I’m sure we can expect news of another Tool album soon to deflect rumours of their demise. Having said that, Maynard James Keenan has always liked to keep us guessing.

In the meantime, I strongly advise you to buy this and go and see them when they support Nine Inch Nails in London on July 1st. Fail to do either will result in a sorely missed opportunity.

5 stars