The evolution of Russian Circles seems to be gathering pace with this, their sixth album. Their angular math rock spikes are long gone, with the trio now favouring cleverly written, snaking compositions. Ones seeking to lead their audience to a destination via a long, winding and occasionally beautifully verged road, rather than leading them up the garden path and hacking at them with a set-square.
Guidance finds the band firmly in an expanisve post-metal/post-rock landscape, attempting to better their 2013 opus Memorial. They might have explored similar vistas before, but they’re not settling for the easy option. Kicking off with Asa, Russian Circles open not with a bang but with a carefully paced, delicate and beautiful piece calling to mind the more gentle compositions of Ludwig Van. Intertwined clean guitar lines layer over ambient swells, rejecting the need for crescendos or huge overblown pay offs. It would appear that Russian Circles have embraced the notion that sometimes pure elegance is enough.
They repeat the idea on Overboard around the album’s midpoint. A brief break from the occasionally claustrophobic riffing, the band’s use of reverb, simplicity, and space provides an expanse of tranquillity at the heart of the album. Interestingly, the song’s central motif never really develops, which leads to a sense of bobbing around in an ocean searching for the horizon, seeing nothing but never-ending sea and sky and surrendering to the elements.
These brief moments of respite and apparent simplicity allow the more aggressive and expansive moments to really resonate. The segue from Asa into Vorel is smartly executed with the thundering drums of Dave Turncrantz leading the band into an oppressive fug. As the rumbling bass of Brian Cook and the fuzz of Mike Sullivan’s guitars take hold and a darkened sense of doom descends, the switch from stripped back to all-out assault highlights the trio’s ability to make an incredible wall of sound with such a limited arsenal. Breaking free from Vorel’s claustrophobic caverns, Mota unfurls wonderfully with its spidery guitar lines being propelled into a supernova of soaring distortion by Turncrantz’s muscular drumming and Cook’s surprisingly wiry bass. Afrika finds the band in more familiar territory, Cook’s bass leading the charge from deep in the mix as Sullivan’s guitars probe and soar. As they hit the midpoint, the band switches back and forth between militaristic stomp and soaring exposition finding themselves in a struggle of oppression and freedom, poignantly never quite resolving.
Following the brief and elegant interlude of Overboard, nuance is cast to one side as Calla seeks to explore their more aggressive, explosive side – an invigorating blast of chaos, but with little in the way of inventiveness. Admittedly, the crushing sledgehammer riffs are fantastically mindless, body smashing fun, but after such a strong and contrasting first half, for just a moment, Russian Circles sound as if they’ve run short of ideas. Any concerns that the well has run dry are truly dashed by the truly epic closer Lisboa. Utilising plenty of reverb and gentle guitar and drum parts, the smart production of Kurt Ballou (of Converge) places the band in an echoing wilderness they tentatively explore before explosively filling it with a squall of feedback from Sullivan, along with a raft of colossal riffs, building towards a magnificent and almost spiritual climax. Stunning doesn’t quite cover it. After six albums, Russian Circles are still a force to be reckoned with.