As much as I love when bands explore their sound, branch out, and experiment, adding little bells and whistles to what they do, it can be just as satisfying when musicians do the opposite. Not everything has to be a grand scheme, and sometimes just plugging in and pouring your heart into your work can be more giving than even the headiest of ideas.
Russian Circles, who have done their share of stretching and testing their sound, apparently felt that being more immediate and to the point on their fifth record “Memorial” is where they wanted to go, and lo and behold, that decision resulted in their heaviest, most tumultuous, and best record of their run. It’s not like this Chicago-based instrumental band never had those stormy, brutal elements in their sound, but they always balanced that with atmosphere and lush orchestration in order to give you moments of calm. But you get little of that on “Memorial,” and this quaking record is the closest this band’s ever come to a pure metal album. And while we’re still listening to a ton of the new Pelican album over here, Russian Circles have pushed into their space as one of my two favorite instrumental metal records of the year. Both released in the same month, if you can believe that.
Comprised of three members–guitarist Mike Sullivan, bassist Brian Cook, and drummer Dave Turncrantz–Russian Circles recently flattened audiences on a tour with Between the Buried and Me and Coheed and Cambria (their Pittsburgh stop was a particularly volatile affair, where these guys showed just who was boss), and perhaps those thunderous performances were setting the stage for what was to come on “Memorial.” The band said they consciously tried to enhance their louder more metallic elements on this record, and there’s hardly a moment during these eight tracks when you can catch your breath, even when they aren’t burying you in heavy fire.
The somber opening “Memoriam” is the calmest, cleanest cut on the whole album, but it’s a red herring for what’s ahead, especially when “Deficit” strikes and blows the walls off the foundation. Guitars wail, drums rumble violently, and doomy, surging melodies crash over you like waves intent on dragging you back with the undertow. There are cool, prog-fed keyboard that add some color to the track, and the final moments are thrashy and completely devastating, leading into “1777.” That song is melodic and epic from its start, with sweeping shoegaze guitar playing and emotional melodies that veer into crushing drums. The track may seem like it has the worst of intentions for you during most of it, but by the end, you should find yourself riding along with uplifting melodies that’ll spark your heart. “Cheyenne” starts off acoustic and rather gorgeous, with nice texture, but then the guitars start to buzz like hornets, noise starts to come to a boil, and a watery atmosphere lets the song trickle away into the night.
“Burial” follows, and just from its title, you can anticipate the crushing salvo that is in front of you. Noise surges, and while the drums hit on a calculated pace, the guitars start to swirl like a ferocious black hole, and the cut becomes total devastation and aggression, with the final minutes unforgiving but also visceral. “Ethel” can be tornadic at times, but it’s also a little less harsh than the rest of the songs on this album. It does a great job building anticipation during its run. The guitar work is soulful, with the rest of the sounds standing alongside it, and everything bleeds out after some well-placed key zaps. “Lebaron” brings back the crunch, with thick, destructive guitars and shimmering keys, and the drums really hold everything together acting as the rock-solid spine for this killer. The closing title cut, while gazey and atmospheric, is arguably the most intense track on here thanks to the haunting vocals from Chelsea Wolfe, who makes this piece a chiller. The music is murky and feels like the foggy night time rolling in, while Wolfe holds you in the palm of her hands and enraptures you with her incantations. It’s a surreal, captivating ending to one great document.
Russian Circles could have tried to bloat their sound or spill a hundred million ideas into this record just to make people marvel at their ambition, but instead they just burn the son of a bitch to the ground. It’s not to suggest Russian Circles should go this route every time, but hearing these guys at their hungriest, most hellacious is a revelation and results in “Memorial” being their finest record to date. Your ears will bleed, you brain will hurt, and you’ll be buried in the mighty sound of one of the world’s most explosive instrumental bands.
For more on the band, go here: http://russiancirclesband.com/
To buy the album, go here: http://hellomerch.com/collections/russian-circles
For more on the label, go here: http://sargenthouse.com/