Release Date: Oct 29, 2013
Record label: Sargent House
Post-metal is at an unfortunate place in its still-young history. Despite an ever-growing sea of bands that bear or are associated with its name, creativity-wise the genre has formed a quagmire of indiscernible copycats. Though it fares marginally better than its slightly older brother-in-arms, post-rock, a style full of groups convinced that they alone know the perfect crescendo, on the whole the odds of happening upon another Isis are increasingly low.
Traditionally, a memorial is a place for reflection; a locus where we're able to go not only to contemplate the events of the past, but to allow ourselves the opportunity to carry the emotional weight that accompanies them. With their fifth album, the aptly titled Memorial, Chicago instrumentalists Russian Circles craft an album that fully, and mostly wordlessly, explores this idea of a specific, controlled space where one is supposed to let their feelings run wild. Continuing to explore the expansive and metallic sound of the brilliant Empros, the band's music seems to really capture this duality, offering up a series of tightly constructed tracks that seem to surge with catharsis and sadness, creating a musical tempest in a teapot.
Russian Circles' fifth studio album has a bolder, more polarizing sound than previous efforts. Soft, haunting melodies are pinned up against monster, house-shaking riffs. The Chicago, IL three-piece have always been careful in allowing each member to showcase their musicianship within their releases and Memorial is no exception. Second track "Deficit" is a multi-layered song featuring grandiose, pummelling riffs (courtesy of guitarist Mike Sullivan), a rumbling, bass-driven build-up (from bassist Brian Cook) and Dave Turncrantz's earth-shattering, half-time rhythm drumming.
Although a cursory scratching of post-metal's foreboding surface reveals a startling number of wildly creative bands peddling variations on a disorientating and atmospheric theme, there has always been something special about Russian Circles. Memorial emphasises the Chicago trio's idiosyncratic take on the post-Neurosis template, eschewing the sustained bludgeon of 2011's Empros in favour of a more dynamic blend of apocalyptic riffs and shimmering fragility. A thrilling moment on an album that is full of them, the woozy melancholy of 1777 recalls Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks theme reimagined by My Bloody Valentine, albeit with a muscular percussive thump cutting through the distorted melee.
It's impressive what Russian Circles can do with a basic guitar, bass, and drum setup. There are plenty of metal-leaning instrumental bands who dial up big climaxes, but you'd be hard-pressed to find one that creates such an array of textures and emotions with so little. Bassist Brian Cook also uses keyboards, and on the Chicago trio's excellent fifth album, Memorial, they bring in guest cello and violin.
October is the month when the two leading instrumental post-rock groups right now, Russian Circles and Pelican, will go head-to-head with their album releases. Pelican’s newbie, Forever Becoming, dropped on the 15th and this Russian Circles album will go global two weeks later. With both Chicago bands mining the same rough musical seam, you’d think the two might have clashed sooner, but it has never been an issue previously because of their distinct stylings.