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Confession time: most contemporary doom bores the hell out of me. Maybe I’ve just been to too many swanky, faux dive bars here in Portland charging $6 for microbrews and endured too many local openers who manage to make it through a half hour set without playing a single riff.

“Okay, guys, I get that you worked extra shifts at the head shop to finally nab that Sunn Model-T on Craigslist. Maybe you should ditch the amplifier worship and learn how to write a song.”

Magic Circle are the gruff older dudes grinding it out in the actual dive bar down the street to ratty battle jacket-armored heshers chugging $1.50 Oly (or Yuengling, if we’re talking East Coast). What these guys cram into the sequel to 2013’s out-of-friggin’-nowhere self-titled debut is straight out of the early ‘80s, that uncertain couple of years where metal found itself in transition from NWOBHM to speed to thrash, when the tempo dragged to a crawl for just a brief moment before the Big Four took over the world. It was a time when Americans finally got a hang of This Heavy Metal Thing; Dio joined Sabbath and the floodgates opened. Trouble, Saint Vitus, Cirith Ungol: all commanded a deft balance between low and slow and that unmistakable Iommi boogie stomp.

Magic Circle walk this tightrope on “A Ballad for the Vultures,” “Grand Deceiver” and closer “Antediluvian,” dooming out early before bringing the stomp late. Just when they stretch a riff near its breaking point – just when they’ve trudged almost too long – they pull a 180 and kick up the tempo. It’s a neat trick that just does not get old. And they reverse it on “Ghosts of the Southern Front,” which locks into a Heaven and Hell swagger in its first half before grinding to a halt and riding a ringing twin-guitar lead and screaming solo right to the reprise at the end.

And none of this is the least bit formulaic, partly because Magic Circle are great songwriters, but also because – much like its predecessor – Journey Blind is sequenced for vinyl. The title track and “Lightning Cage” are the album’s two fastest songs, and they come at the beginning and middle, kicking off both the album’s sides with its two most immediate songs. These are the shitkickers, the party-starters, the biker rock songs you’ll preface with a “Dude, you just need to hear this” to your buddies before cranking the volume as you’re blowing down any stretch of highway 75-plus mph. “Journey Blind” in particular is just a destructive eight minutes of music, a perfect opener if there ever was one. This album’s been on near constant rotation since the promo landed in my inbox the third week of October, and each time the intro melts into that riff… shit, just listen to this.

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How does that not make you want to go headbanging around the office like a goofy hesher? There are times where I’m answering emails at work and I have to control my own neck so my headphones won’t fall off. And that Geezer Butler bass break at the bridge? Filthy, seductive, perfect.

Vocalist Brendan Radigan kills it on every song, nailing the exaltation of fronting a stampeding, unstoppable band cooking at white-hot temperatures. If you didn’t know he was a Boston hardcore staple, you’d think all he did growing up was practice his wail to early Priest and Maiden records. Maybe that is all he did, and he molded an emotive, powerful voice perfect for this genre; just enough falsetto, just enough grit.

Hell, the story’s been told, but now that we know the debut wasn’t a one-off fluke, it bears repeating: all these guys’ main gigs are hardcore bands. Radigan and bassist Justin DeTore play in The Rival Mob and Mind Eraser (guitarist Chris Corry also plays in the latter); drummer Q manned the kit for Forgotten Gems inductees Clouds, and currently lays down the D-beat for Doomriders. Now they mess around and drop a traditional doom album so stunning, so perfectly balanced it’ll make a believer of anyone tired of recycled (non-)riffs and manufactured occult posturing. It’s telling that the cover for Journey Blind is a Joe Petagno piece from 1979 that never found a home during that era. The album itself plays like a long-lost masterpiece from a band worshipped by a chosen few; it’s not even out yet and it already feels like a classic.

—Greg Majewski

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Journey Blind is out on November 20th via 20 Buck Spin.

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