There’s an organic and unforced feel to the latest album by Chicago-based post-rock trio Russian Circles, as if songs were allowed to grow wild rather than carefully cultivated.
For five albums now, the Chicago-based trio Russian Circles have made great use of post-rock most familiar’s dynamic tricks—loud and quiet; stop and start, swell and subside. But they’ve never had qualms about splicing elements of everything from metal and noise-rock to krautrock and post-hardcore into their darkly dramatic, instrumental compositions. Their last album, 2013’s Memorial, fleshed things out even further with keyboards, strings, and guest vocals from Chelsea Wolfe. But on the group’s sixth full-length, Guidance, a slightly different ethos is at play: the fine art of letting it flow.
There’s always been a sense of flow to Russian Circles, but on Guidance, it’s far more striking. On the folk-like opener “Asa,” Mike Sullivan’s delicate guitar is underpinned with surges of dusky ambience; from there, the band’s tried-and-true blend of glacial riffing and overcast atmosphere takes hold, with the chunkiness of “Vorel” tracing a direct path back to Through Silver in Blood-era Neurosis. Brian Cook’s bass churns with seismic force—the tone of his instrument remains one of the Russian Circles’ most instantly recognizable and arresting textures—and Dave Turncrantz turns his drums into an intricate apparatus of temporal dissection. Amid all that, though, the grooves reign. “Afrika” creates an pulsing undertow that’s desperate and triumphant at the same time; “Mota” switches up more often. But even when Guidance gets complicated, there’s a more organic and unforced feel to it, as if songs were allowed to grow wild rather than carefully cultivated.
Just as unforced is the emotional gravity of Guidance. In a recent interview with Destroy/Exist, Cook explained how the album was inspired by a handful of photos his husband was given at work one day—photos of public executions being held somewhere in Asia. No explanation was given, and since then, the photos had haunted Cook. Rather than turning Guidance into a album-length threnody—Memorial, after all, kind of fits that bill—there’s an urgency and even a sense of meditative acceptance to songs like “Mota” and “Lisboa.” It’s no accident that those are two of the most openly melodic tracks on the album, with chord progressions that evoke beauty, melancholy, and cautious hope as potently as Jesu. “Lisboa” is also the only song on Guidance that truly, fully commits to the sudden, super-quiet/super-loud dynamic that’s become post-rock standard issue. But here, when the band shifts abruptly from hush to hurricane, it feels like a introspective collapse rather than an explosion.
Unlike a huge portion of heavy and/or post-rock albums, lately or in the past—including records in Russian Circles’ own back catalog—there are no lengthy, eight-minute-plus tracks on Guidance. Nor are there any brief interludes. Aside from delicate, folk-like opener “Asa,” each track occupies a relatively uniform span of time: roughly around the six-minute mark. Conventional wisdom would lead you to believe that such uniformity would make for a flat feeling; instead, Russian Circles use the strictness of that structure to explore numerous ways of wringing contemplation and ecstatic out of its tightly bound, three-person setup. Then again, that’s what Russian Circles—even at their most sprawling—have always done: searched for resonance and depth in the turbulence around us.
Listen to featured tracks here.