In Search Of Tone: Mike Sullivan Of Russian Circles 

This interview series started as something small I thought I could get advice from a few guitarists on how to play guitar. I did not think I’d be getting actual advice on how to better my tone from one of my all-time favorite guitarists Mike Sullivan of Russian Circles. He taught me how to better set up my stereo rig and to utilize my tremolo pedal as more of a boost. He warned me I’d lose a weekend just playing guitar. Well, I lost a few weekends, hence this interview is a little late.

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Chicago instrumental post-rock trio Russian Circles are an incredibly loud band. When guitarist Mike Sullivan, drummer Dave Turncrantz, and bassist Brian Cook get together, the decibels are raised to massive levels, the syncopation is tight like a double knot, and the senses are surely going to feel something.

Read the full interview on Dig Boston.

Russian Circles Full Feature in Distorted Sound 

It seems extraordinary to think that RUSSIAN CIRCLES have been playing and creating music for nearly two decades. With seven studio albums and their debut EP going all the way back to 2004, the band have had an eighteen year career that feels like it’s gone by in the blink of an eye. In that time, there’s been a definite development of their style and sound, moulding their heavy, drone soundscapes into monstrous dirges that rage and consume. We caught up with Mike Sullivan about the mindset of the new record Gnosis and getting the barebones of creating music.

Read full feature on Distorted Sound.



Russian Circles’ eighth full-length studio album, Gnosis, is officially out via Sargent House. It’s a record that was very much shaped by the COVID-19 shutdown, the band forced to embrace new approaches to songwriting with the prospect of touring put on hold. The result finds them leaning into their heavier tendencies while still maintaining the wide sonic landscape the instrumental three-piece is known for. 

Guitarist and founding member Mike Sullivan answered some questions for us regarding the record’s sound, the writing process, recording in two different locations and touring with some of heavy rock’s biggest names.

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How wild gear changeups, Irish guitar lessons and "way too much" Boss Metal Zone helped Russian... 

Russian Circles have come back swinging from the pandemic. Their new record, Gnosis, is their most unapologetically heavy yet. That's saying something, because their last album, 2019's Blood Year, was already crushing. 

There's an even greater directness to Gnosis. It builds on their trademark blend of post-metal, black metal atmospherics, and calculated use of dissonance. Pure metallic catharsis is no longer confined to just the climax of a track, but forms the bedrock of many of the strongest riffs on the record. 

From the lead track Conduit on, there's a singularity of purpose to Gnosis. It pummels the listener not simply with riffs, but riffs with a strong melodic hook. It's not an undynamic record, either. In fact, thanks to the deft hand of Kurt Ballou on production, the mix has room to breathe in between the hammer blows.

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Russian Circles’ Cloud of Uncertainty: Interview with Brian Cook 

Russian Circles are in their element onstage. The trio of Mike Sullivan, Brian Cook and Dave Turncrantz thrive on the chemistry that comes from sharing the same proximal space, building intensity from the physical act of performance. That’s not always easy to do as an instrumental band, but through years of touring and honing that psychic musical connection, Russian Circles have grown into a formidable live presence. If you’ve seen them, you definitely remember it. 

That very fact led to a conundrum for the band once Covid shut down all live music in 2020, canceling their tour behind their then-new album Blood Year and having to rethink their approach to creating something as a band. They ended up doing something they’d intended to do a long time ago, and began to work on their own individual home studio setups, and from there they let the ideas flow—crafting music from scratch, from a distance, but coming together on a common wavelength even without the luxury of a shared space. 

Gnosis, out this month via Sargent House, is a surprisingly physical and menacing album in spite of the distance. It’s the most urgent they’ve sounded in years, capturing something undeniably visceral. Yet for how dark and turbulent this set of songs is, Cook says that being able to work freely and on their own schedule—with no expectations beyond the opportunity to make something—made it unusually satisfying to throw themselves into. 

“Having deadlines and things like that sometimes is a good motivator, but with a record like this where there was no real deadline, just writing for the sake of enjoyment, knowing that the future was a question mark, that’s kind of the way I feel a band should operate or artists should operate,” he says. “I’m not working on a schedule, just doing it because it comes naturally. In a year of a lot of negativity and bleak outlooks, it was this really reassuring and optimistic reminder that we can mix things up, and do things in a way that feels like it’s creating a better reflection of who we are.” 

We spoke to Cook about Russian Circles’ new album Gnosis, capturing live energy via remote files, and personal growth.

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“It’s not an ‘Yngwie’ sense of classical,” Russian Circles’ guitarist Mike Sullivantells us. “It’s more symphonic. Especially with layering and looping. You can create something you can hum, that can be stuck in your head – not just thrashing.” 

Clunky genre labels like post-rock, post-metal and instrumental progressive sludge have always done Russian Circles a disservice. There’s a classical feel to their arrangements – just not in the way you might think. Their eighth album, Gnosis, is as crushingly dense and devastatingly emotional as ever, sweeping between heavy, droning textures, pummelling riffs and gorgeous clean passages. 

Their symphonic approach means melodic clarity is essential – throughout all the intensity, the band’s three members are always audible. Mike Sullivan’s guitar, Brian Cook’s bass and Dave Turncrantz’s drums are given room to breathe, both through deft arrangements and meticulous production. 

Gnosis was tracked in two studios. The drums were recorded in Chicago’s Electrical Audio, with Sullivan and Cook playing live alongside Turncrantz’s takes. “I don’t think there were any songs to a click,” says Sullivan of the process. “There’s one that’s synced to a syncopated delay on the guitar, that was it. Compared to previous records, it was more, ‘no click, just jamming’ – just playing what felt good.”

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Russian Circles have released their first ever music video for the title track of their forthcoming LP Gnosis, available next week, August 19th, via Sargent House. The Centerpiece of the album “Gnosis” begins with a slow-build exercise in krautrock methodologies—drones, guitar arpeggios, cosmic synth, hypnotic drum patterns—that eventually explodes into the wall-of-sound bombardment Russian Circles are known for. The accompanying video, directed/edited by Joe Kell, is full of dark imagery driving towards the actual definition of the word “Gnosis.” The band explains: 

“Gnosis is a special song that has grown with us over a number of years. The main theme of the song was reconceptualized so many times that it provided nearly endless arrangement options. It's rewarding to see such a minimal song idea evolve into one of our most dynamic and fully-realized songs to date. 

When discussing a concept for the video, we agreed we wanted cinematic footage of nature and humanity. Ultimately, we wanted the video to feel fresh and inspiring despite dealing with a dark theme. Similarly, we wanted to compel viewers to rewatch the video and get something new from each viewing. Somehow, editor Joe Kell masterfully made this all happen.” 

Gnosis eschews the varied terrain of those past works by employing a new songwriting technique. Rather than crafting songs out of fragmented ideas in the practice room, full songs were written and recorded independently before being shared with other members, so that their initial vision was retained. While these demos spanned the full breadth of the band’s varied styles, the more cinematic compositions were ultimately excised in favor of the physically cathartic pieces.

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