In the category of atrocious album covers that make Maiden’s Dance of Death (2003) look like a flawless gemstone, Welcome to the Absurd Circus makes a strong show of force with fire and ballerinas and tutus and plague masks. (Cheeky.) It’s probably supposed to mean something, but whatever it is, Italian progpower stalwarts Labÿrinth aren’t getting the point across. Being their ninth full length, Welcome to the Absurd Circus comes nearly four years after their somewhat-of-a-comeback Architecture of a God (2017), and thankfully it isn’t as horrible as the artwork would lead one to believe. Neither though is it that impressive a show of their previously showcased talents, running mostly through the motions as it does and indulging in the Italian style pretentiousness at times. Most of the album is scaled back from its predecessor in terms of accessibility; while the material certainly isn’t just your run of the mill verse-chorus affair, the guys also doesn’t let loose in full the progressive builds they’ve been known for and have done so well in the past.
Olaf Thörsen and Andrea Cantarelli’s guitars are the star players here, and their presence on much of the album are among its highlights, their melodic intertwining and playing off each other save otherwise bland moments. The riffs have a crunch to them, thanks to Simone Mularoni’s production, but the highlights are their melodic leads and solos, abounding on the first half of the album. Roberto Tiranti also proves as strong and versatile as ever, his tenor having lost little power through the years. His performance in tracks like Forever Free and Den of Snakes are standouts on here, though his strongest moments come in opener and (semi) title track The Absurd Circus, with its hooky chorus and his suave presence adding to the trademark Labÿrinth charm, while Live Today and One More Last Chance add those slightly more straightforward, accessible approaches perhaps especially in the vocals department. The latter sports a phenomenal solo section, dueling guitars trading off with keyboardist Oleg Smirnoff’s finest moment on the album.
The second half of the album takes a downward turn, housing the more forgettable numbers. This includes filler in the form of an Ultravox cover (Avantasia couldn’t pull it off, you can’t either) and a sappy, forgettable ballad pad the runtime but do the entirety exactly zero favors. Closing track Finally Free however is really the most experimental track on here - and a definite highlight - tossing in more progressive leanings and time shifts than elsewhere on the album, and a small but effective bass solo from Nik Mazzucconi to round the melodic tunings of Thörsen, Cantarelli and Smirnoff. In all, Welcome to the Absurd Circus is a balancing act; it delivers those Labÿrinth moments you’d expect while never diverting too far from the formula, but it’s also not a classic in the band’s own sense by any means. Far from a must hear, Welcome to the Absurd Circus is still a decent enough album, one without any huge surprises, save except maybe for the fact that it’s a thousand times better than the hideous artwork would have you believe.
Standout tracks: The Absurd Circus, Den of Snakes, Finally Free