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A Perfect Circle

ONE OF THE more high-profile debuts in recent memory--thanks in no small part to the fact that Maynard Keenan, also of heavy metal kings Tool, is the singer--this gloomy, thunderous set actually justifies the hype. Unlike either Keenan's main employer or songwriter-guitarist Billy Howerdel's erstwhile employer (Nine Inch Nails), A Perfect Circle applies a deftness of touch--call it the "smacked in the face with a velvet brick" approach--that speaks volumes for the band's ability to transcend the monochromatic demands of today's alt-rock marketplace. With everything from Pink Floydian psychedelic bombast ("Magdalena" is directly descended from hirsute prog-rockers of yore) to dreamy Hendrix blues ("Orestes" has a breathtakingly sensual vibe that's anything but nihilistic) to U2-styled anthemism ("3 Libras," likewise, is romantic and inspiring) going on here, it's a decidedly different-sounding record.

APC doesn't forget to rage against the machine, of course. When Keenan unleashes his trademark tortured bellow, mere mortals shrink from thoughts of what must pass through the dark caverns of the singer's soul. And the band's symphonic blare is as daunting as anything Metallica's attempted of late. Perhaps even more, and innovatively so.

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