The Black Market: The Month In Metal // Russian Circles “Guidance” at #1

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“Instrumental metal” is a little bit of an oxymoron. Metallica have one instrumental track on each of their first four LPs, and those tracks are fucking classic and fit perfectly into those albums, but play them back-to-back and they sort of feel aimless, unmoored. Metal is based on evolution, but there’s no clear lineage for the “instrumental” subgenre. John Zorn’s Painkiller? Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien? Buckethead? Yngwie Malmsteen? So it’s kinda striking that, today, there are a lot of bands that might be categorized as “instrumental metal.” The best of the bunch include Earthless, Pelican, and Dysrhythmia, but the very best of them all is Russian Circles, whose upcoming Guidance achieves the one crucial thing achieved by so few of the band’s peers: The music doesn’t sound like a derivation of post-rock or psychedelia or free jazz or ambient; it sounds like metal. It’s really tough to make that work when you don’t have vocals driving the music, but every instrument here manages to stand in for vocals at some point or another. It doesn’t feel like vocals are missing; it just feels like they’ve been delivered with a tool other than the human voice. That’s not to say Russian Circles don’t heavily draw from non-metal genres — you’d have to be deaf not to hear the post-rock in this one — but they don’t start there, and more importantly, they don’t end there. Guidance single “Mota” blasts and whirrs with fury and bursts to razor-edged climaxes, but for me, the song is exemplified by one tiny moment that occurs right after the 5:10 mark: By that point, the whole thing is just blazing when all of a sudden you hear this ghostly wail coming up in the mix — every time I hear it, I brace myself for a deep guttural roar — but it’s a guitar, and as soon as you realize it’s a guitar, the song shifts gears and crushes you with a stomp worthy of Nails or Black Breath or any of those Kurt Ballou-produced Entombed-style tough-guy hardcore bands. That’s not a coincidence: Guidance was produced by Ballou, too, and I’m not sure his ear has ever been put to better use. I am sure, though, that 2016 hasn’t given us too many albums that sound as good as this. [From Guidance, out 8/5 via Sargent House] –Michael Nelson // LISTEN TO ‘MOTA’ BELOW

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