Russian Circles first appeared on my radar with the release of their album Memorial in 2013. I’d had a quick listen to their songs when they had come up in a Reddit thread or were referenced by another band I was listening to. They struck me as a band that I would enjoy, yet I had never made/found time to listen to them. Guidance is the 6th full-length album by Russian Circles, who have also released a self-titled EP in 2004.
I write this while waiting for the birth of my first child. She was officially due to arrive yesterday, so I’m in a holding pattern with many things like work, fuelled half by excitement and half by anxiety from the wait. What better time to sit down and write up my thoughts on an album that I’ve been meaning to listen to since it came out mid-2016. Admittedly I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but I’ve had the name come up too many times now to have not listened.
Tym guitars (an amazing Australian music
store institution in Brisbane) has posted about them on their website, stating:
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. – Tym Guitars 1
I may as well stop writing this review now, that’s one hell of a press grab already. It’s also a great summation of how the band have channelled elements of “post-rock” and mixed in a liberal dose of classic distorted riffs. This album is heavy for a post-rock release, yet it also features beautiful pacing and lighter moments to offset the heaviness.
Asa is a delicate piece, combining drones and clean(ish) guitars. As an album opener, it is a risky move, but I’m all for it. Asa paints the scene for what is to come, it’s the prologue to the play. It’s the moment in a film just before the lead character’s life falls to pieces in the first ten or so minutes. Before the partner is caught cheating or the injury or plane crash. It’s building a platform for the rest of the album to work and I adore that they open the album this way.
It leads flawlessly into Vorel. The drums and bass arrive and are given some room to stomp around. There are some big riffs in this track, paced at just the right tempo to allow the chug of the guitars to come through.
From the ashes of Vorel comes Mota. A slightly more melodic change of pace now. With an ebow 2 providing drones and arpeggiated delayed guitar, Mota is more of your standard post-rock fare, plenty of room being left in the mix to play around with dynamics. The second half of the track reaches a more frenzied feel, with the frenetic lead guitar part drawing all focus. The almost synth like distorted tone is a standout for me on the album. Mota continues to evolve over the course of its six and a half minute length.
The album has truly shown some teeth by now and Afrika provides the breathing room, fluctuating between wailing melodies on the guitars and the contrasting tom-heavy drum motifs. I would love to know if the song name/identity came first or if it was named after the fact. The drumming in places reminds me of Bill Ward’s work on the early Black Sabbath records, where the drums are used less as a metronome and more as the punctuation of melodic ideas.
Overboard is delayed guitars and drones again. It’s there to provide contrast against the barrage of the distortion and fortissimo everything. With that said I do feel that this song could have been half the length and been just as effective as a palate cleanser.
Calla starts off with some nasty distortion on the guitar. I love it. Thin, nasal and abrasive. Then the rest of the band enters, then the guitar adds some wah for even more grit to the tone. It’s an exercise in dissonance and distortion pedals. Calla starts heavy and then gets heavier. It’s clever the way that it has been written, a brutally heavy section then resolves slightly, it feels more structured, more controlled, before exploding again. It’s a song that deserves to be played loudly through your stereo.
Lisboa is a slower track. Slow enough to really hear the reverb on the snare drum which drew my attention more than I would have liked at first. Lisboa is a song of defined movements, the reverberant snare, the lone guitar, the wall of dissonant distortion. Repetition and evolution of the ideas. Lisboa is slow enough that it could easily have had Peter Steele sing over it and been a Type O Negative song in another universe. It finishes off the album, not so much with a bang but more a great beast that has run out of puff and finally succumbed.
Guidance has some fantastic musical moments and enough contrast between delicate and heavy to maintain interest. The songs feel templated somewhat in their length, one song is four minutes, two songs are five and a half, four songs are near as makes no difference to six and a half minutes. In a 41 minute album spread across seven songs, the pacing can sometimes feel off, with some sections lingering too long and others teasing without fully hammering home an idea or motif.
The first three tracks deliver a great taste of the rest of the album. If you listen and like those three, chances are you’ll like the rest. I’ll be checking out some of the other Russian Circles albums out of curiosity.