Chrindie ‘95: Circle of Dust’s Circle of Dust

Circle of Dust’s songs dealt with sinful brokenness and divine agency.
Circle of Dust

First, let me address some controversy that this piece might stir up: Yes, it’s sort of cheating to include Circle of Dust’s self-titled debut in a project focusing on music released in 1995 since the debut was originally released in 1992, and only re-released in 1995 as a reworked and remixed version featuring new material. However, from the band’s perspective, the original 1992 release should have never existed in the first place.

In an HM Magazine interview, Circle of Dust mastermind Scott Albert — who now goes by the name Klayton and releases music as Celldweller — called the original 1992 release an “abomination” and went so far as to say, “I hated the release when I walked out the door of the studio I had just recorded it in, in 1991. (I still have hopes that every copy that still exists will somehow dematerialize permanently.)”

Abomination it may be, but that original release was mind-blowing to “high school” me. I had recently discovered the industrial genre via Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine, and though I knew nothing about the genre’s history, and was completely unfamiliar with its foundational artists (e.g., Throbbing Gristle, Einstürzende Neubauten, Coil), there was something undeniably dangerous and exciting about it: it sounded like the music of the future. (That I was both a burgeoning sci-fi and computer geek at the time probably had something to do with that impression.) I was familiar with groups like Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, and Front 242, but it was the Christian industrial scene that I knew and loved best back then. (And in some ways, still do.)

There was a wave of Christian industrial music in the early 90s that has never been equaled since. Blackhouse — arguably the first Christian industrial artist — had been recording since the early ’80s, but in the early ’90s, artists including Mortal, Deitiphobia, The November Commandment, globalWAVEsystem, Generation, Under Midnight, and X-Propagation all released albums, some of them even on “big” labels like Intense Records and Metal Blade Records. But as influential and special as those albums were — for the record, I call dibs on Mortal’s Fathom if there’s ever a “Chrindie 93” project — Circle of Dust’s self-titled debut, in either form, holds a special place in the Christian industrial pantheon.

Circle of Dust
Jason Tilton, Scott Albert, Daren “Klank” Diolosa

Though I cringe at drawing one-to-one parallels between “Christian” and “non-Christian” artists, it’s difficult not to think of Circle of Dust as the “Christian” Nine Inch Nails (with no offense intended to either artist). Scott Albert and Trent Reznor both knew how to balance aggressive beats and metal riffs with pop melodies and slick production, with the result being songs as catchy as they were intense. Albert also knew his way around a sampler, and Circle of Dust is full of samples ranging from obvious industrial sources (e.g., Blade Runner, Aliens) to more eclectic ones (e.g., Indiana Jones, To Kill a Mockingbird).

As a teenager who wanted to be a faithful Christian and an angst-ridden rebel (I know, I know), the industrial genre was attractive, not just because of the music’s intensity but also because of the lyrics’ bluntness. Mortal’s Jyro sang poetic lyrics that were equal parts praise and worship and emotional and psychological turmoil, globalWAVEsystem raged against sexual temptation and promiscuity, and Circle of Dust’s songs dealt with sinful brokenness and divine agency.

On “Rational Lies,” for instance, Albert sings:

Here it is again, the voice that scares my thoughts away
Demands attention for itself (itself alone)
Seems so unthreatening but promises a bitter sting
So soon my heart and mind become the battle-zone

Later, on “Consequence,” he sings:

O hound of heaven hear my cry
Remorse for things that I have justified
My life’s a book whose pages are well read
Of actions good and evil and thoughts inside my head

[…]

Immortality there is a price that must be paid
Indispensable laws that cannot be disobeyed
Circumstantial gravity a weight of great vitality
A warning to us all (be aware)

Even now, I remember the impact such lyrics had on me when I was 17 or 18. Growing up in a Christian culture where topics of sin, doubt, and guilt were (unconsciously or not) whitewashed for fear of seeming less-than-faithful, it was refreshing and inspiring to hear an artist sing so bluntly about their spiritual struggles, and to do so with a sense of urgency and intensity — due in no small part to the industrial genre’s motifs — that felt a lot closer to St. Paul’s anguish in Romans 7:14 – 24 than much of the Christian music my peers were listening to.

So which version of Circle of Dust is better: the original 1992 release or the 1995 upgrade? The 1995 version sounds more polished in places, and the replacement tracks, like “Onenemy” and “Parasite,” are excellent in their own right. But there’s no denying that the 1992 original remains a classic, if not in the band’s eyes.

Unfortunately, Circle of Dust was plagued by problems, many of them caused by their record labels. Their first label, R.E.X Records, experienced financial crises, layoffs, and legal issues in the mid 90s, and Albert spent over a year in legal disputes with them himself. (In the aforelinked interview, he described his R.E.X Records contract as “useless.”) The final Circle of Dust album, 1998’s Disengage, was released on Flying Tart Records, but Albert’s label woes continued even there. Flying Tart was bought out and the original owner fired shortly after Albert signed with them. Subsequently, Disengage was released in a mangled form and received little distribution.

Combine those headaches with the constant questions Albert received regarding his faith in light of his music’s darkness as well as his refusal to identify with the “Christian” market (an act far more controversial in the mid ’90s than nowadays), and it’s really no surprise that Albert abandoned Circle of Dust — and the Christian music scene — for other projects by the time the new millennium rolled around.

For its time, Circle of Dust represented some of the best of what the Christian industrial genre had to offer. Musically, it could hold its own with anything my non-Christian rivethead friends were listening to, but without sacrificing one iota of Christian conviction. 20 years later, I still get a charge out of it.

This entry was originally published on Chrindie 95 on .