"Charleston has been great for us," says Circle Back frontman John Marino. Now more than ever, his atmospheric metal ensemble exemplifies the turbulent and often discomforting spirit of the hardcore subculture within the Holy City. That said, the band's origin story isn't strictly a local one. As Marino tells it, "Circle Back was originally formed in 2013 and was intended to be a studio partnership between myself and a long-time friend and collaborator named Dan Pelletier. I loved the potential of those early songs of ours. The only problem was that he was located in Ohio and I was already living in South Carolina."
Before landing here, Marino had been a part of the Cleveland-area fast-bash crowd that received loads of attention in the mid to late 1990s. "It was," Marino explains, "a great time to be involved in punk and hardcore. Integrity, Ascension, and Committed were all getting played nationally, and there was a real specific sound associated with acts who were tied to Mars Studios and Spider Studios, that was truly something special." There's no doubt that this formative period of witnessing unrest and success along the North Coast continues to inform Marino's approach to music-making.
While looking for a viable way to keep the Circle Back project moving forward in his new hometown, and without his old pal Pelletier around to help, Marino ultimately came up with a coarse mixture of Charleston-based musicians who were eager to push hardcore aesthetics into unpredictable territory. Since the first version of the full band emerged, back in 2015, the collective has shapeshifted a few times. Marino acknowledges that, "there has been a slight change in membership and approach since the beginning, but we have finally arrived at what is going to be the permanent group lineup for Circle Back." That would be Marino on vocals, Nathan Beaty and Richard Kelly on guitar, Robert Gaynor on bass, and Jared Timmons on drums.
The newfound stability has further solidified the camaraderie within Circle Back that was already there, in part, from the shared experience of becoming completely unhinged as a performing unit, night after night. However, the obvious boost in internal precision and confidence has led to higher-profile opportunities, like sharing the stage with legendary hardcore acts Terror and Madball, and working in the studio with storied sound engineer Jamie King, who is beloved for his involvement with Between the Buried and Me.
As it happens, King was enlisted to handle the recent mixing and mastering of Circle Back's latest and arguably most mature batch of metallic material. The new tracks comprise the band's second full-length album, Terminus. For a variety of reasons, this one feels special. According to Marino, that was no accident.
"In a genre where most albums are a pretty straightforward kick in the face from front to back, we took the time to give each song on the new record its own unique flavor. The great thing about how the songwriting process unfolds for us is that I can usually begin to pick up on the emotional feel from what is going on in the music and then relay those same emotions lyrically, making for a more cohesive piece in the end."
For now at least, Marino's own emotions are running high, and he remains extremely optimistic about the future of metal and hardcore music in Charleston. "The overall scene here is very unified at the moment. We have lost some of our go-to venues over the years, but that never seems to stop new bands, clubs, and labels from popping up, which is a very good sign, in my opinion."
As for Circle Back, Marino and company's buzz-worthy new LP will arrive on Aug. 30 via all major streaming services. Terminus will also be available soon on vinyl, CD, and cassette formats, thanks to a creative partnership with Cross My Heart Records. Marino confesses that, more than anything, he is looking forward to putting on as many celebratory concerts as possible around this release, and to producing a live film designed to document this particular high point in the Lowcountry's hardcore history.