Brooding, Contemplative Metal
For the past decade, Chicagoan trio Russian Circles have worked to craft a uniquely delectable brand of post-metal; one that readily embraces the abrasive sounds of metal music while still maintaining the more pensive qualities of post-rock. However despite their tremendous success within the instrumental rock-sphere, the group has constantly pushed to expand and reinvent their sound. As they have matured as a unit, Circles have shifted away from the mathy time-signatures that characterized their debut offering – Enter – in favor of dynamic swells and textural complexity.
Guidance sees this trend continue as the three-piece outfit further integrates the slow-builds and rousing crescendos of post-rock into their music. Their songs slowly develop, gradually introducing new harmonic content, whilst playing upon the quiet/loud dynamics that have become so emblematic of instrumental rock. However, their newest album is able to avoid some of the formulaic pitfalls that have plagued the post-rock genre by instilling its songs with a sense of devastating energy. “Vorel” slowly builds upon the harmonic material introduced by “Asa” to provide an explosive climax that both delivers in unbridled distortion and surprisingly rich harmonies. “Afrika” offers an earsplitting medley of tremolo-picked notes that are accompanied by some impressively syncopated drum-bass hits. And while the main riff of the penultimate track “Calla,” may not be particularly engrossing, guitarist Mike Sullivan is able to weave together some strikingly dissonant figures that fall somewhere in between black and doom metal. By fusing the structural rigidity of post-rock with some of these more metalesque techniques, Russian Circles are able to inject their music with a sense of excitement and volatility that prevents it from ever becoming stale.
Yet despite the group’s penchant for fuzzy, overdriven guitars and frenetic, blast-beat drumming, Guidance also offers some remarkably delicate moments. “Asa” captures an expansive, strikingly post-rock soundscape, chockfull of reverb-laden guitars and sprawling synth drones. “Overboard” slowly and steadily builds, culminating in a subdued crescendo evocative of an Explosions in the Sky piece. This impressive ability to balance hard and soft songs allows Russian Circles to present a much more compelling and digestible listening experience. These brief moments of beauty and reflection allow the listener a chance to breathe in between the heavy metal riffage that comprises the majority of the album’s runtime.
All in all, Guidance maintains the same unapologetically overdriven intensity that has come to define the band’s catalog, while simultaneously delving deeper into the grab bag of post-rock compositional methods. Fans of black, doom, sludge, and drone metal alike should appreciate Circles’ deafening walls of sound and furious rhythmic passages (bassist Brian Cook and drummer Dave Turncrantz truly turn in impressive performances). On the other hand, admirers of more ambient-minded instrumental rock will welcome the album’s incorporation of minimalist structures and stirring crescendos. Guidance is definitive proof that ten years after their first release, Russian Circles continue to demonstrate how a band can thrive without ever settling too comfortably within the constraints of a single genre.