"Once it gets too fancy, I start losing the groove," says Mike Sullivan of the challenges of playing guitar in Russian Circles' deceptively dense musical pockets.
Indeed the Chicago-based post-rock band are capable of creating intricately layered pieces of music, often from simple, intertwining melodies that when combined are capable of creating harsh soundscapes, vast acoustic caverns and everything in between.
On their latest album, Empros, Russian Circles tend to pay more attention to those extremes than the stuff in the middle. You might swear Johnny Greenwood was behind the ambient folk of "Schiphol," while "309" wouldn't sound out of place on an early Celtic Frost record. And dynamics aside, Empros also features a major first for the band: Their first track with vocals, album closer "Praise Be Man."
I recently caught up with Russian Circles guitarist Mike Sullivan, who acted as a guide through the musical journey that is Empros.
The last time we talked, I asked you how you could describe the sound of Russian Circles to someone who had never heard it before, and you said it sounded like a mix between Metallica and Pink Floyd. I think this album absolutely captures that, and then some. Parts of "309," for instance, sound like Celtic Frost or Emperor. How did those extremes come to be on the album? What inspired you to go into harsher sonic territories?
There wasn’t much thought to, "Well this song sounds different." Anything that different sounds kind of fun and exciting. It didn’t take much effort, actually. It was one of those songs that kind of wrote itself after a while, you know. The riff's there, and you try to change it, and then you want to go back to how it was; it had a little groove there.
There was definitely a lot of heavier influences as far as that song goes. We’re obsessed with that band Craft and the album Fuck the Universe. So we liked them for some time now, but it’s a matter of finally getting more comfortable doing certain things, especially heavier stuff.