When it comes to instrumental metal, there are few peers to Russian Circles. To perform music within this genre is to be teetering on the edge of tediousness. There is beauty to be found in groups like the Chicago trio and their ability to hold listeners’ attention not just over the course of a full-length album, but an entire hour and a half headlining live set. Russian Circles’ set at Echoplex, with the large club filled with a mix of indie-leaning hipsters and metalheads, was proof positive of their skills. Through 10 songs and well over an hour on stage, they alternately pummeled and dazzled with their hypnotic, churning, pounding post-metal.
Opening the set was tourmates King Woman, the project of Kristina Esfandiari. Their sound aligned well with what the headlining act would be presenting, offering a dark, doomy, altogether unique take on alternative metal. Partially because of her visual aesthetic and partially because of her affiliation with Sargent House, King Woman call to mind a heavier, riffier Chelsea Wolfe. Esfandiari sings over the doomgaze instrumentals in a deep, passionate baritone. Every emotion could be felt through each note she sang, as she writhed around the stage. Highlights of their set included “Shame” and the enthralling “King of Swords.”
After a quick break, Russian Circles wordlessly took the stage. Considering nobody was mic’d up for vocals, the band kept the on-stage banter to an extreme minimum. They opened with the title track of their sophomore album, “Station,” One of the more lengthy songs in their discography, it alternated between a menacing riff that chugged with the zeal of a hardcore band. Though there was a moment of twinkling respite during “Station,” it wasn’t long before guitarist Mike Sullivan was back to shredding away.
The band continued to bounce around their discography, never playing a song from the same album twice until “Vorel” and “Mota” from their latest, Guidance, were played back-to-back. Every LP in their discography besides their debut was represented during the performance, making it an excellent sampler for the uninitiated to Russian Circles.
The second song of the set, “Geneva,” was the title track of their third album, beginning with a more melodic introduction before erupting into a cascading wall of sound, pounding the eardrums of everyone in the spacious Echoplex. With only three members, the band made the most of what they had to create such a massive sound. They have a hardcore/metal icon in bassist Brian Cook (Botch, These Arms Are Snakes) who led the way on several of the songs as Sullivan’s guitar was layering sound on the higher end of the register.
Russian Circles are a band in their prime, as the standout songs of the set were certainly when they touched upon Guidance. Between “Vorel” and “Mota,” the trio (which also features founding member and drummer Dave Turncrantz) offered the audience over 10 minutes of proof that they seem to have perfected their sound. Seeing these three superb musicians weave a fascinating tapestry of heavy and beautiful sounds over such a lengthy period of time without losing interest is something that any metal lover should witness.
Russian Circles Set List