Russian Circles’ recent release, Guidance, proves that instrumental rock is not dead. With their grinding effects, these guys have created art on wheels, hurling listeners into a dreamlike trance where ghosts and goblins lunge for your throat, and Guidance is the soundtrack to get you through the battle.
I first got sucked into Russian Circles with their album, Empros, when I was on a Red Sparowes, pg.lost kind of kick a few years back.
Up until recently, taking the song names to heart, I thought these guys were actually Russian, but they’re from Chicago, Illinois.
For a three-man band, they get creative with a crapload of pedals to construct an orchestral sound that comes at you from all sides. Each song leads you on a journey of the mind, where stories play out behind chord changes and varying rhythms, dragging your mood either into the gutter or lifting you up to fight the next boss.
It starts out, inobsequious, just slow-jamming, tending toward lighthearted melodies as they’re looking forward to new beginnings, then the static of an untapped FM-radio station starts coming through near the end of the first song, Asa, blighting the sound, and the drums slowly pick up to carry you on to the next leg of the adventure.
Vorel would be the perfect song for fending off demons in Gods Eater or Monster Hunter. It’s almost too much to take in, all the sounds colliding. Then it gets dark and grindy, while maintaining the constant hum of Brian Cook’s up/down strokes, and Dave Turncratz goes wild on the drums, manic, yet somehow still maintaining the pace of the song.
All the tracks on Guidance run seamless into each other, as if they weren’t individual songs, but one 41-minute long story.
Mota‘s a little more hopeful sounding, then it changes, and you’re thinking, “What’s gonna happen?” Then Cook comes in with a single powerful note, left hanging in the air. It’s a predictable turn of events, satisfying the need to take a long drought of water on an arduous hike through the woods, and Mike Sullivan backs up the track taking his time, drawing out long bass notes, while Turncratz is just hacking away. Sullivan’s fingers are running like a spider along the fret board.
With some consistent crashing toms to bring us back from a slight pause, you’re not ready for the end. Russian Circles doesn’t give you a break, as individual notes rush into quick strumming and the next song takes shape.
Afrika has this weird didjiredoo-type sound, Cook’s doing, as he fills the room with bass. With their scientific looping thought experiments, it almost sounds like there’s a xylephone coming through one of the lower layers, or someone’s running their hands along telephone keys. Is there an army of flying monkeys banging around on trash cans in the street? Nope. It’s just Sullivan, messing with effects, giving the impression that 10 guys are all playing guitar simultaneously.
There’s no real structure to the songs. They pluck when they feel like it, roll into drums when it seems appropriate, and let the notes hang when the moment’s right.
Taming things over a bit, with Overboard, the sequence ramps back up with Calla, with super dark, grungy riffs. The image of a burly hulk creature materializes into view, Frankenstein’s take on Highlander, climbing sharp rocks cliff side during a storm. He’s seeking vengeance. His name is Calla and he’s here to kick your ass.
The track gets nasty around the 32:00 mark and Turncratz does not relent and Cook starts djenting. Then the song sizzles out, electricity crackling on the surface of the ocean at night. The giant reaches his hard-earned ascent.
Lisboa proves a quaint little ending to the album, slowly reminding us that it’s all over. The song says, “Go home, sucker,” thus leading you to play the entire thing again, while your eyes glaze over, mesmerized by the guitar’s delay, the crashing cymbals, and the beast roar of a blaze that is the bass.
How fast is Cook’s wrist, anyway? As a child unfamiliar with the mechanics of musical metaphysics, you’d never guess that this guy is likely drenched in sweat while he’s working through a nasty breakdown, cutting off the audience from what might have been another 40-minute voodoo ritual.
On the whole, listening to Guidance is twice as satisfying as devouring loads of heavy comfort food during one of those long-awaited holidays.
And now I’m sucked back into the tar pit of instrumental metal, thanks to Russian Circles. Their sixth studio album will have you gripping the edge of your seat, trying to stave off visions of dark beings with an insatiable thirst for blood.
I’ll listen to this album on repeat until pg.lost releases Versus on Sept. 16.