Russian Circles takes its name from a hockey maneuver that involves skating in circles—a fitting moniker considering the band’s combination of brute muscularity and fleet dexterity, and the key role that looping plays in the music, particularly when layering guitars during live performances. Although typically billed as a “metal” band, Russian Circles largely eschews the drastically detuned guitars, relentless rapid-fire riffing, and highly technical soloing endemic to the genre. The band can be monstrously heavy, pummeling an audience with the best of them, but there’s majesty to the mayhem. An uncanny mastery of dissonance fused with keen dynamics and a minimalistic, almost serial melodic sense results in beautifully foreboding soundscapes of cinematic scope. On Russian Circles’ fourth album, Empros [Sargent House], guitarist Mike Sullivan, bassist Brian Cook, and drummer Dave Turncrantz have further concentrated those elements into what may be their masterpiece.
Russian Circles is in some ways the antithesis of the average hyper-technical metal band. What put you on that course?
My last band was also an instrumental band, and we were a bit more technical, though not in the sense of over-the-top death metal-type sweep arpeggios. I can’t even make that happen, so that’s not a concern. But when Dave and I started Russian Circles, we decided to keep things reallysimple, and to focus more on song structure and on groove. It was challenging at first, partly because there weren’t a lot of reference points for what we were trying to do. But the simpler and more malleable the song structure, the more freeing it is, because you can take the music in any direction from there.