Oliver Goodyear

21:07 10th October 2004

Nordic bands are more usually famed for burning churches down than playing in them, but then Finland’s Circle are a very different prospect from the Black Metal which is Scandinavia’s most prominent musical export. One of the most compelling live acts around, their visits to the UK are all too infrequent.

Last time they played in Leeds, in the tiny room upstairs at The Packhorse, they presented an incredible rhythmic onslaught, with two drummers and vocalist Mika Rättö joining in on percussion from time to time. Each of the long tracks saw them finding a metallic riff and then playing it over and over for anything up to twenty minutes. Imagine AC/DC tackling 'Negativland' by Neu! and you’re still not even close to the majesty of Circle in full flow.

This time out, the slimmed down four-piece are in an altogether different headspace – not to mention physical space, in the imposing surroundings of Holy Trinity Church. The krautrock-inspired repetition still forms the backbone of the single, epic track they play tonight, but gone is the heavy metal noise. Instead, guitarist Janne Westerlund plays acoustic for the entire performance. Jussi Lehtisalo is just the same – enormous, even hairier than last time out – but his basslines are less driving, more reflective. Rättö, with his banshee-howl and theatrical stage presence, is usually the visual focus of the group, but tonight he is content to add lilting Rhodes piano and leave most of the vocals to Westerlund and Lehtisalo.

The performance begins with distant stormclouds conjured by Tomi Leppänen’s gently crashing cymbals and Rättö’s insistent shakers. Lehtisalo’s huge baritone resonating in the vaulted roofspace is curiously appropriate to the surroundings. Gradually Westerlund falls into a bucolic, folky riff reminiscent of Amon Düül’s 'Love is Peace'. Over the next forty or so minutes very little changes, as the song ebbs and flows in the most natural way imaginable. It’s hypnotic and devotional, and any disappointment that this is not one of the full-on, diesel-burning Circle shows of yore quickly vanishes. As the track evaporates into a beautiful piano coda from Rättö, the audience’s delight is palpable.

Clearly, though Circle haven’t set fire to the church, they certainly brought the house down.