It’s always best not to hold your breath for the release of new music from A Perfect Circle, though fans have had reason to hope for some time now. After several years of absence from the scene, APC began the long process of resurrection over the last few years, going on tours and, generally, just popping up more and more on the cultural radar. Something felt imminent, but imminent is a subjective term when discussing A Perfect Circle (or any project featuring front man Maynard James Keenan).
Saying that A Perfect Circle broke up isn’t really an accurate assessment, though you certainly wouldn’t be far off. It has been well over a decade since the back-to-back release of aMOTION and eMOTIVE, an album of remixes and an album of covers, respectively. That spurt of releases, not too far from the heels of Thirteenth Step from 2003, kickstarted a decade of silence, briefly interrupted by a series of live albums in 2013. The silence was effectively a breakup, sure, but over the years they were said to be merely on hiatus, with various references to scheduling and timing made in passing by both Keenan and guitarist/bandleader Billy Howerdel.
Last week, the band updated its social media profiles to feature a new logo—tinged blue, the familiar APC symbol had two words emblazoned beneath it: “The Doomed.” Speculation mounted. New song? New album? Some bizarre new APC art project? The wait is now over and the speculation can now end. This morning saw the release of the first newly recorded song from A Perfect Circle since 2004, and it is a monster.
“The Doomed” feels like a direct response to the goings on of the world today. Maynard’s frustration is palpable across all four minutes and forty-two seconds of the new track, though that’s nothing new. His lyrical oeuvre has always been laced with a kind of detached nihilism born of disappointment over how the massive throngs live their lives. He’s always seemed one or two steps away from just washing his hands of us all and walking away to let us live out our destructive lives without him.
And who knows? Maybe he will. Maybe he’ll just hole up in his Arizona enclave with his grapes and wine, detaching himself completely as we veer closer and closer to the sun, slowly but surely ensuring our explosive demise. From the sound of things, his chagrin has reached new peaks.
“And the word was death, the word was without light,” Keenan chants, veering into lyrical territory typically reserved for Tool (whose own hiatus is…you know what, this isn’t the time). “What of the pious, the pure of heart, the peaceful? What of the meek, the mourning, and the merciful? All doomed. All doomed.”
He’s not playing around anymore. Keenan has always been well-versed in the language and subtexts of Christianity and their preachings, using their language and beliefs against them as a mirror for their hypocrisy. Philosophically, he seems bemused that the same swaths of people who speak of a forgiveness and love are among the same who beat the drums of war and destruction. “The Doomed” is an anthem of a brave new world, one where the light of love and brotherhood have been snuffed out, giving rise to misery and destruction.
Musically, the band is in top form. A Perfect Circle has always been a deceptively rich and layered band, and “The Doomed” is no different. Beginning with a slow, almost industrial sounding beat, overlaid by an atmospheric intonation, the new song is immediately recognizable as A Perfect Circle. Above all else, APC has always been a beautiful sounding band, one that plays with melody more than many of their metal contemporaries.
New bassist and drummer, Matt McJunkins and Jeff Friedl (who both worked with Howerdel on Ashes Divide and Puscifer with Keenan) keep up well with Keenan, Howerdel, James Iha, managing to maintain the style and sound A Perfect Circle established on Mer de Noms and Thirteenth Step. They both had huge shoes to fill replacing Josh Freese and Paz Lenchantin, and they’ve stepped into them nicely, and neither of them overtly change the dynamic of the band.
That dynamic has always been the push-pull of Howerdel and Keenan. From the band’s inception, A Perfect Circle has been led by Howerdel, who leads much of the writing process and is, for the most part, in control of the sonic direction of the band. Keenan, meanwhile, plays with that soundscape to deliver to his lyrics, and the two have always complemented each other greatly. Theirs is a partnership that produces textured music that plays in the metal toolshed without being beholden to tropes of the genre.
“The Doomed” is a stunning addition to A Perfect Circle catalogue, and a fantastic example of how music and art should react to the horrors of contemporary life. Here, Keenan and Howerdel are directing their efforts not to the symptoms of modern life, but the underlying disease. No single person is singled out as a target for their scorn. Rather, they’re aiming straight for your mind, calling out the philosophies and ways of thinking that led us down the dark path on which we currently walk. Their darkness is our light, and with them as our guide, perhaps we can get back on track.