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Russian Circles - Guidance CD (album) cover


Russian Circles

Post Rock/Math rock

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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars From the first minutes of this album I was convinced that this is a return to form for Russian Circles and I was not disappointed! Russian Circles have been a favorite of mine for quite some time. Even if the trio from Chicago haven't been able to deliver a perfect string of records, even their lesser moments are well worth experiencing.

I really liked the opening track Asa which is then perfectly complemented by Vorel. Unlike the intro on Memorial, which felt way too short and it's transition into Deficit felt abrupt, Asa takes it's time and delivers one of the band's best intros which can only be matched by the excellence of Campaign on Station. The transition into Vorel is seamless and the track that we are presented with is another marvelous piece of music that reminds me of Harper Lewis from, yet again, Station. Mota brings us a moment of sheer beauty as the track slowly unravels itself into another mix of melancholy and sheer power.

I'm really liking the fact that these compositions are slightly longer than most of material on Memorial, thus making the track flow feel more natural and the performances seem almost effortless. Africa is a perfect example of just that. The track commences slowly while feeling very structured in it's delivery as we are treated to a beautiful sounding landscape of musical harmony. The composition shifts into minor scale halfway thought the track and transitions in a completely different beast before returning to it's humble beginnings towards the end, what an excellent piece of music!

Just like Mota, Overboard works as another transitional piece that brings the record even more beauty as we slowly transition towards the final two tracks of Guidance. Calla is a heavy composition that introduces itself in the orderly fashion as we are treated to another pleasant landscape filled with electric guitar and hard hitting percussion work. Lisboa finishes the record off nicely with another slow and atmospheric piece which reminds me, yet again(!), of the ending to Station.

The question that I've pondered on, after giving Guidance a few spins, is whether the record is meant as a follow up to Station. The album does indeed feature quite a few callbacks to one of the finest records of 2008 but I wouldn't really say that the connection is entirely justified. The band have undergone quite a few different milestones during the last 8 years and thus have many different influences to draw it's inspiration from. There is definitely an ambition with Guidance to create another coherent record, which is something that Russian Circles have managed to do in the past with Empros and especially Station. Therefore the connection to Station is more in spirit than in execution. Either way, this is another excellent album from Russian Circles that should not be missed by fans of instrumental rock music!

***** star songs: Asa (4:00) Vorel (5:29) Afrika (6:31)

**** star songs: Mota (6:33) Overboard (5:32) Calla (6:23) Lisboa (6:32)

Report this review (#1599904)
Posted Sunday, August 21, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars Before I even start talking about this album I should start by saying that for me Empros is one of the best in the genre. And by "genre" I do not necessarily mean post metal (as in that case it would of course invite a lot of strong contenders), instead I mean something like "Sigur rós on acid", as I have no better way to put the level of madness that album represented for me. So, when I heard that after Memorial (which was more mediocre in quality and rather different in style) Russian circles is revisiting the formula they used when putting together that brilliant masterpiece five years ago, I shat bricks just from the sheer idea. Now, the album is here and I think I can say: they made it... Or, almost made it.

'Asa', first of all, is a fine ambient opener, fit for purpose, bringing back some of the dialled down moments of Station and Empros. Of course, in Russian circles' books it is still all about the metal, so when the table is set with 'Asa', the epic 'Vorel' already swoops in to kick it right over, which results in probably the best and most coherent piece of the album. The post-metal rollercoaster rolls right on with two blinders again, as 'Mota' and 'Afrika' show with full pride what the band is the best at: mixing loud and quite in such a way that your heart will pound like it never did since Empros. There are some beautiful, slow build-ups here peaking in brutal riffage and then falling back to earth again with some soothing tunes. Time for some chill at this point, as the again Empros-like tunes of 'Overboard' slowly give way to some more melancholy, just so that it can again be taken over by one of the most brutal pieces the band has ever done: 'Calla'. Although there are some strong riffs here also, the album at this point starts to pull back a bit, with the tendency then continuing on to the closing track 'Lisbon', which somehow cannot decide whether to be loud or quite, and eventually falls on the ground between two stools. And this is probably the only bad thing I can say about the album, plus the fact maybe that the full album length is not too impressive either (clocking in at just over 40 minutes).

Putting all this aside, this album is a solid effort. Why did I then use the word "almost" when introducing it? Well, partly because of how high the bar has been set with Empros, any maybe also because this Chicago-based trio has chosen a genre (instrumental post metal that is) that might wear out after a while unless they throw in some innovation between each album. And although they did so on Guidance, the striking similarity to Empros and Station might still invite some questions about whether it sounds recycled or not or whether this music wears out with a few listens or will keep hanging on to your playlist. Still, the end result is as wicked as Station, more mature than Memorial and playful like Empros but in the dramatic-acid-trips-way again, which is a good mixture. Overall not as strong as their previous album but is solid enough to mark another strong entry in their discography.

Report this review (#1608120)
Posted Wednesday, September 7, 2016 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars When Russian Circles released their 6th full-length album in 2016, they had pretty much established their 3 member line-up, and those members would continue with the band for "Guidance", namely founder Mike Sullivan on guitars, Dave Turncrantz on drums and Brian Cook (originally from the post metal band "Botch" and "These Arms Are Snakes") on bass. The band is obviously familiar with their styles at this point, and it really shows in their music on this album. The sound the original band had when they started is back full-force this time around, where their style of post-rock is very natural sounding instead of forced like many lesser post-rock bands out there. This is why Russian Circles is a highly esteemed band by both fans and critics alike. To understand what I mean by a natural flow to the band's music, you have to listen to this album.

The first half flows easily from one track to another giving the listener the feeling of a single suite-like composition. "Asa" starts off quite melodically with a lovely melody strummed by the electric guitar. After that is established, the song floats along and builds naturally with another guitar buried deeply behind everything chiming out a counter- melody. This is interrupted eventually with a very uneasy feeling as layers build rhythmlessly, then the drums roll in as the other instruments build and boil over, taking us into the 2nd track "Vorel". The guitars are tortured as the bass and drums pound out a solid foundation. This crescendo builds naturally as the track reminds the listener of how the band used to just let the music flow on its own instead of trying to force it. By the end, the music is uneasy and heavy. This is what the band was the best at from the beginning, but they did seem to lose their way somewhere in the middle of their discography, this track will give you the hope that the heart of the band has returned. The music flows right along easily into "Mota", which has a nice plucked sound that accents the moderate beat as a 2nd guitar plays sustained chords like a melody. Almost halfway through this track, the beat tightens up and then slows to a more sludgy sound as the guitar becomes much heavier. All the while, an excellent sense of melody keeps the music grounded as the guitars and bass play with and against each other. After some churning, the music turns into a wall of sound as dissonance and chaos comes in which levels out a bit when the drums pick out a more steady rhythm, but then carries the track to a explosive ending that continues to resonate until it flows into the next track, "Afrika". Drums start to roll stirring up this track, and the guitar chimes out a hymn-like melody as layers build upon each other, yet the melody continues to drive it all forward. Towards the middle of the track, as things quiet down allowing the drums to carry the track forward for a while as the guitars and bass reorganize to start a 2nd theme, this time a bit darker. The band takes advantage of this to build again creating a heavy ending with a reprise of the original melody bringing it to its final climax and then cooling off to the end.

At this point in the album, there is a real break of silence that separate the remainder of the tracks. "Overboard" builds slowly out of that silence with sustained guitar chords droning along. Soon, a slow and soft melody comes in over the drones. Melody takes over again as the melody becomes more apparent and the guitar chimes it out in an arpeggio pattern. This one builds slowly, but remains a bit understated compared to the other tracks, yet it still carries a heavy unease about it as it builds and then slowly releases again. It's a lovely, more pensive sounding track. At the end, the echoing guitar flows into "Calla" which immediately begins with a tenseness which explodes with the addition of the bass and drums. Heavy drums, bass and guitar make this a sludgy affair based more off of chords than melody. This heaviness and thickness lasts through the duration of this track. However, "Lisboa" is even slower acting more like a dirge though it is much quieter and returns to the reliance on melody again. The drums come and go at times leaving the guitar by itself until the 2 minute mark when everything gets loud while maintaining the dirge-like feel as it slowly plods along. This actually paints an effective picture of darkness. Things soften and get more pensive at the 4:30 mark, but the drums quickly bring the heaviness back again as if they haven't quite proven their point yet. It all ends off in an anthem-style state when the guitars are allowed to finally fade off into nothing.

This is really a beautiful album when you let yourself get lost in it. To an outsider that might pass by while you are listening, it may seem heavy and loud, but to listen to it in it's entirety, you feel the power of passion and emotion in the music and it becomes like a collection of classical music done with heavy metal instruments. It is all instrumental, and if you know Russian Circles, then you would already know that. But, lyrics aren't needed to paint the pictures in this music. The amazing thing that separates this band is in the natural way the music flows, sounding not so much like it's structured into a perfect plastic shape, but like it develops smoothly, almost without seams, taking shape the way it is meant to, allowing the instruments to have their say whether it's in a strong and silent way or if it's in a loud and forceful manner, they have the control of the emotion and it all feels real.

Report this review (#2484079)
Posted Thursday, December 10, 2020 | Review Permalink

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