Monday, October 21, 2013

Russian Circles - Memorial (2013)

You might never see them on a late night talk show, or even hear their name mentioned on any radio or TV broadcast, but that doesn't make Russian Circles any less of a musical revelation. Their work in the post rock and post metal genres has allowed it to take shape over the years, expanding to new reaches with every album. In 2011, they released an album that would have seemed to push the boundaries as far as they could possibly go without fracturing or breaking; they had found clarity in all aspects of the process. They were, in fact, one of the first modern metal acts that proved vocals were a luxury, not a necessity. But when you find that niche, that home amongst your peers and competitors, you never stop moving forward. And some two years later, they've gone even further into the unknown corners of their craft, bringing the art of the music back in earnest. Ad inside their artwork, another eight tracks of expansive, ethereal metal known as "Memorial," you will be reminded of why you loved music in the first place.

While not unheard of in Russian Circles albums past, "Memoriam" takes delicate to new places, softly plucked guitar strings cascading through your speakers with ease and care. But it would be foolish to assume this was a new direction, and the first kick drum in "Deficit" puts your mind at an immediate ease. The drumming here is intensely accurate and abundant in scope. Even with the guitars providing the main melody, it is the drums that are the driving force, be it through a series of toms and snares, or a simple snare build. It also is a constant reminder that small doses of unbridled heaviness can do wonders for the depth of the mix, surprising you by throwing a bit of caution to the wind and mercilessly hammering down from above with a set of monster riffs. But the greatest success in a track like this is always finding your way back to the main street, in this case that almost eerie calm before the storm. It has worked so often in a growing career arc, whether that return comes in the beginning, middle, or end.

In "1777," it is the building from the first note that sets it apart. The intensity is always there, but it comes in and out like the tides; one minute it is a smooth flow, the next it crashes down like waves on the rocks. The melodies are infectious in their simplicity, and memorable in their depth of sound. The outro, as it winds down, is a fitting end. Unlike many other bands in the genre, Russian Circles have always shown a knack for crafting a visual style of music. In "Cheyenne," they make a track that clocks in well over four minutes, and turn it into a crying guitar line that feels like mere moments. Again, it isn't insanely complicated or contrived, but it speaks volumes. It moves you, and moves with you, up through the final fading strings. And yet, a single breath later, and you are knee deep in a song that could certainly be described as having a touch of evil in the mix. It may not be the next Satanic anthem, but there is surely more than a sprinkle of darkness in "Burial," captured so carefully in it's howling guitar leads.

But with another tectonic shift close at hand, you find yourself riding a wave of sheer terror to it's completion, landing you squarely on the soft, coddling "Ethel." It boasts a beautiful post rock atmosphere,a  melodic soundscape that builds you up so easily, without even a hint of letting you fall. It lays down the tablecloth and silverware for the final movement, a pair of tracks that couldn't be more different or more the same. "Lebaron" comes first, it's periods of chugging and distorted guitars feel so precise, yet so reckless over the drums. It is, of course, the logical progression of an album with so many logical progressions. But it, in the scale and flow of the album, may be a throwaway, due in large part to what came before, and what comes after. Because while "Ethel" set the table, it is the title track that clears it, without so much as a meal in sight. This collaboration with Chelsea Wolfe, this breathy, airy work that no one outside of the band's inner circle could have seen coming, is as charismatic a tune as you could find, without ever rising above a simmer.

We've delved deep into the world of reconciling musical expectation with musical reality before, to varying results. And the main thing that we, as fans digesting media, forget, is that these albums, this music we hear, is art. Sure, bands would love to sell a few millions albums at a time, and live comfortably as a full time collective of musicians. But the landscape of the music industry has changed so drastically, that that isn't a viable option for rock and metal. This is the genre where, with exceptions, of course, the men and women within our favorite bands can make music to be proud of, to express themselves. Russian Circles have always been high on the short list of groups that need little to no vocal component to say what they choose; their work has done so much for the post-music sub sects of metal. But never before has their voice been so united, so clear, and so well represented as it is on "Memorial." They gently push and pull you along, leading and showing you the way to a different sort of end. And with that collected voice, they say more than ever.


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