There are occasions when Post-Rock can be a turgid affair. When not done well, there are all too often vast stretches of instrumental tedium that build slowly, occasionally deign to provide an explosive payoff and then fade into the next track of pointless oblivion. When a band gets it right though, the experience can be remarkably rewarding and transcendental. All too often however, it’s a fine line between the magical and the soundtrack for a documentary about 1970s wallpaper. Russian Circles have no such problems, and since their inception in 2004 have continued to put out a series of albums that show no signs of stasis or settling into formula.
Latest album Empros never opts for the easy route; as new ideas are constantly introduced and expanded upon. Opening track 309 is a perfect example starting life as little more that a spidery motif before launching into an all out metal fuelled assault. The pounding bass drums of Dave Turncrantz keep things on track as Mike Sullivan’s guitars expand and contract, soar and dive to dizzying effect. Constantly moving and shape shifting; the key to the song’s success lies with its unrelenting battle charge. At the mid-point break down Brian Cook’s bass comes rumbling from the speakers full of murderous intent and sounding as if it has been strung with suspension bridge cable. When the band pile back in, chaos ensues thanks to a liberal application of a killer riff and a squall of feedback. From the delicate opening to the riotous close there is no let up and no dead ends.
Mládek finds Russian Circles pushing towards an almost indie-rock direction. It wouldn’t be entirely out of place to suggest that the choppy high end guitar steeped in cleverly wielded delay bears more that a passing resemblance to the techniques employed by U2‘s The Edge. Fortunately, with Russian Circles rarely utilising vocals there’s no chance of anything resembling Bono making an appearance. Sullivan’s intelligent use of layers and loops create a phenomenally dense but remarkably accessible soundscape as the band constantly ebb and flow between bombast and introspection. Mládek could well constitute the high point of their career so far.
Schipol, the track that follows Mládek is also up there with Russian Cirlces best work. A delicate and reflective introduction sets a tone at odds with the album’s opening metal swagger. Even when Turncrantz’s drums kick in the band are looking to the heavens and beyond the stars rather than grinding through the dirt. From here they segue into Atackla, a brooding beast of a song that flits between moments of crushing intensity and passages of hopeful light constantly. Yet it never ignores an opportunity to ratchet up the tension.
It’s only on closing track Praise Be Man that there’s any kind of relief. It represents something of a departure for the band, not only does it features a haunting vocal courtesy of Brian Cook, but it also finds the band sharing the same interstellar vehicle as a metaphorical J Spaceman as they explore tripped out spacerock drone together. As a closing shot it couldn’t be more perfect as it sums up Empron as a bold step forward for Russian Circles, and one that finds them evolving and creating their best work to date.