Release Date: Aug 5, 2016
Record label: Sargent House
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Post-Rock, Heavy Metal, Post-Metal
If you were looking for a fitting soundtrack to the disaster movie of your life, one that uplifts but also shakes you to your core, Chicago instrumental trio Russian Circles can provide. On their sixth album they have ditched the mathy time-signature changes of old and instead created towering vortices of foreboding noise that sound as if the band have been mainlining Roland Emmerich films on an endless loop. The album begins with a melodic, almost baroque folk guitar and post-rockish reverb on Asa, before moving on to amp-exploding metal and sludgy yet lip-curling riffs on Vorel; and indeed, they balance light with dark throughout.
On their latest release Russian Circles manage what many often think is impossible for an instrumental band: to be all things to all people and successfully communicate a veritable slew of emotions and moods without a shred of vocal or lyric. Long hailed as masters of their particular brand of thick, swollen, metal-infused post-rock that often threatens - to quote the marvellous recent viral video of retired American football star Marshawn Lynch - to 'run through a mu’fucka face' Guidance finds them on stunning form. This is a record that opens up like an old wound, grows and splits like diving cells in a petri dish, unfurls into ever grander and further spiralling madness as it pushes and pulls against itself creating pockets of darkness that the sparse trappings of melody fall helplessly into.
Russian Circles is a band that has no need to prove anything, neither as a collective unit, nor as individual musicians. Yet, on Guidance, the instrumental post-metal trio's sixth album in 10 years, they sound like exactly that--a band on a mission to prove something. Throughout the exactly 41-minute runtime of Guidance, Russian Circles masterfully crafts an enormous array of soundscapes, from soft and gentle melodies to massive walls of sound, transitioning from one to the next seamlessly.
For over a decade, Russian Circles have been painting soundscapes with strokes of dynamism and tonal manipulation. The Chicago outfit's impeccable ability to create and control tension before releasing that energy through expressive outbursts and epic progressions has been the defining element that distinguishes the band from their heavy prog-instrumental peers. Their newest release, Guidance, is yet another prophetic portrait conjuring apocalyptic dimensions in the minds of those who listen.
The evolution of Russian Circles seems to be gathering pace with this, their sixth album. Their angular math rock spikes are long gone, with the trio now favouring cleverly written, snaking compositions. Ones seeking to lead their audience to a destination via a long, winding and occasionally beautifully verged road, rather than leading them up the garden path and hacking at them with a set-square.
Arriving ten years after their 2006 debut Enter, Guidance is Chicago post-rock/metal trio Russian Circles' sixth full-length and third for Sargent House. As much as any of their previous works, this album proves the band masters at controlling dynamics, shifting from heavy, explosive sections to more delicate passages with grace and ease. While the group has previously utilized strings and vocals on very few occasions in the past (with Chelsea Wolfe guesting on the closing track to 2013's Memorial), this album sticks to their standard formation of guitars, bass, and drums.
For five albums now, the Chicago-based trio Russian Circles have made great use of post-rock most familiar's dynamic tricks—loud and quiet; stop and start, swell and subside. But they’ve never had qualms about splicing elements of everything from metal and noise-rock to krautrock and post-hardcore into their darkly dramatic, instrumental compositions. Their last album, 2013’s Memorial, fleshed things out even further with keyboards, strings, and guest vocals from Chelsea Wolfe.
“We should totally start an instrumental band and just jam,” said someone, somewhere, in the last few minutes. Sure, there’s a fair point to be made about instrumental bands that wear out their welcome after the first 10 minutes of a single hook building into what amounts to an epic wheeze. Groups who do it successfully tend to deliver “compositions” rather than songs, forcing listeners to gaze down the barrel of redundancy for the better part of an hour.
Russian Circles epitomize the economy of sound. The Chicago-based band consists of just three members: Mike Sullivan (guitars), Brian Cook (bass), and Dave Turncrantz (drums). Most Russian Circles songs consist of multiple guitar parts, but both on album and in a live setting, it is up to Sullivan and his expertly honed looping pedal to project all of those parts in perfect precision.
Ok, let’s just get it out of the way: ‘post-rock’ is a dead concept in 2016. Despite implying a level of innovation or deviation from hoary cliché, it’s developed its own standard formulae, becoming little more than a by-word for a certain type of instrumental rock. Loud plus quiet plus veryfuckingloud, multiplied by lots of pedals and nods to Mogwai's Like Herod and ...Fear Satan – you know the drill.
One central challenge for instrumental rock bands is to find that elusive middle ground between developed musical narratives and self-indulgence. Considering the legions of Explosions In The Sky-worshipping bands that have cropped up during the past decade, another hurdle for instrumental groups is to accomplish the above in ways that transcend the fray. And yet, with each release, Russian Circles reminds listeners that instrumental music can be infinitely malleable and defiant of expectations.