Russian Circles is a three piece instrumental post-metal/post-rock band from Chicago. Similar to fellow Chicago residents Pelican, Russian Circles play epic, sprawling music which runs the gamut of heavy discordant metal to soft delicate passages. They are also known for their energetic live shows, which include tours with Tool, Red Sparowes, Minus the Bear and Daughters, as well as appearances at the 2006, 2007 & 2008 SXSW festivals.
Formed in late 2004 by guitarist Mike Sullivan and bassist Colin DeKuiper (both formerly of another instrumental band Dakota/Dakota), they quickly recruited Dave Turncrantz, formerly of St. Louis band Riddle of Steel. In 2007 DeKuiper departed the band and Brian Cook (These Arms Are Snakes and Botch) took on the role of bass player for the writing and recording of their newest album, entitled ‘Station,’ recorded in Seattle with Producer Matt Bayles.
Station was released on May the 6th, 2008 on Suicide Squeeze Records. Cook does tour with Russian Circles on bass when the timing does not interfere with his own band These Arms Are Snakes. Russian Circles announced a new album entitled ‘Geneva’ which is scheduled to be released on October 20th, 2009. The album will feature the same lineup as Station, with Brian Cook reportedly taking a much larger role in the writing and creation of the album. Brian Cook describes the band’s take on the new album being “less concerned with making sure we could replicate the material live as we were with making a compelling album.”
[ EMPROS ]. If one thing is certain in this world it is Russian Circles is probably one of the most underrated bands of our time. Instrumental music is not what most would exactly call a mainstream love affair, you will be hard pressed to find a radio station that plays any kind of instrumental music. If anything, the guys have proven that you don’t need to be played on the radio to be successful, bands like Boris or Melvins would also tell you that.
Empros is the fourth soon to be released album by Russian Circles and no doubt their best. This time around the Russian Circle guys have gone for a more dark, but cohesive sound that equals the most heaviest and interesting material that they have ever written which sounds like it focuses on making the drums and bass sound more prominent. The album starts off with the explosive track 309 which begins sounding like music from a horror film movie trailer soon after exploding into a song complete with a heavily distorted groovy-as-fuck bass line and some of the best drum-work by drummer Dave Turncrantz (or any drummer) you will ever hear. The drums in this track are so loud, when I saw them live recently this song almost sent me deaf.
One of the first things you will notice about Empros (if you’re a seasoned Russian Circles fan) is that more emphasis has been placed on the bass and drums. The drum-work of Russian Circles has always been the strong driving point of every single track they have ever written, and one of the reasons many people like the band. The drum-work on Empros will impress the fuck out of drummers and non-drummers alike, I’m starting to think that Dave is actually a drum robot and not a human at all because some of the drumming on this album sounds too good to be true.
While all of their previous albums have placed emphasis on the drums and bass, the drums are super loud on Empros and the bass guitar appears to be more distorted and louder as well. The loudness is especially evident in tracks 309 and Batu. One of the best tracks on the album and my favourite would definitely have to be Attackla. It starts off with a slow guitar riff that slowly builds, and at roughly 1:45 in the track Dave comes in with a catchy drum beat which kind of has a marching feel to it and no it’s not a snare roll. The bass guitar handled by Brian Cook comes in late, roughly 2:20 with so much groove giving the song the feeling of being overly upbeat. By Russian Circle’s standards this is a simple song, but it’s also one of the best.
The track Schipol absolutely scared the shit out of me. The song begins with a beautiful guitar riff repeated over beautifully manipulated guitar feedback tones for over three minutes before you are unexpectedly scared into oblivion by an almost unexpected crashing of guitars and cymbals before diverting back to the eery guitar tone feedback sound that Russian Circles are well known for. If you’re wanting to know which tracks on Empros are the heaviest look no further than the second last track Batu which some will sadly overlook. Don’t let its sometimes soft moments fool you, this song is harder than a quarry full of rocks (excuse my bad analogy) and the hardest track on the album complete with Pink Floyd-esque effects.
The final track on the album Praise Be Man will take everybody by surprise due to the fact THERE IS SINGING IN IT. Although singing in a song composed by an instrumental band isn’t a new thing, in all of the previous 3 albums released by Russian Circles there has never been singing. To be honest I wasn’t a fan of this song the first couple of listens, but after the third or fourth listen I realised this is an awesome song to end the album on. Soft, composed and beautiful it encompasses everything Empros is about it’s a perfect end to the chaos that is Empros. The album is absolutely perfect in every way. Beautifully written, composed, recorded and mixed. This is by far the greatest album Russian Circles have released so far in their career, and undoubtedly the best album to be released by an instrumental band in a long time.
Although a cursory scratching of post-metal's foreboding surface reveals a startling number of wildly creative bands peddling variations on a disorientating and atmospheric theme, there has always been something special about Russian Circles. Memorial emphasises the Chicago trio's idiosyncratic take on the post-Neurosis template, eschewing the sustained bludgeon of 2011's Empros in favour of a more dynamic blend of apocalyptic riffs and shimmering fragility. A thrilling moment on an album that is full of them, the woozy melancholy of 1777 recalls Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks theme reimagined by My Bloody Valentine, albeit with a muscular percussive thump cutting through the distorted melee. Elsewhere, the more succinct likes of Cheyenne and Ethel exude a dark-hued elegance and a hefty emotional punch. As with their previous albums, Memorial demands total immersion, but Russian Circles' sonic world is a welcoming one. Right now, few bands conjure such vital and nourishing food for the imagination.
Crafting a concept album is an incredibly difficult task. Tying together a cohesive narrative across a record’s worth of songs isn’t just daunting, it’s an endeavour that even some of the industry’s finest have failed to do memorably. This task, however, becomes notably more difficult when you’re dealing in the abstract via instrumental soundscapes. That is what Chronotope Project, the moniker of composer Jeffrey Ericson Allen, attempts to do with his latest project, ‘Ovum.’
NAAL is an eclectic music project led by Chicago composer Dave Mantel. This talented musician has a true passion for great melodies and haunting musical textures. His blend of ambient, shoegaze and experimental drone music feels personal and unique, echoing the work of artists such as Slowdive, Boards of Canada or Sigur Ros, just to mention a few.