At this point in their career, Russian Circles have become one of the most celebrate acts in the post-rock/post-metal/post-whatever scenes. They’ve landed tours with some very high profile acts and each of their releases has been met with an abundance of glowing, positive accolades. And for good reason. The band have been able to navigate the waters of post-rock and post-metal, among others, and defy their stylistic conventions. They’ve adopted the techniques of the genre’s progenitors and modified them to fit their progressive manner. Each record has stayed true to their core sound while simultaneously toying with various compositional techniques and moods. Listeners usually know what to expect going into a Russian Circles album, but always experience a surprise or two. Their sixth and newest full-length offering, Guidance, is like the albums that came before it – a solid edition to their discography, but also business as usual.
2013’s Memorial saw the band casually shifting from sprawling, intricate compositions to more direct, brooding passages. In this sense, Guidance picks up where its predecessor left off. The songs are relatively shorter and they don’t implement the band’s usual slow-building patterns. These tracks waste little time getting to the point and there’s a general sense of urgency felt throughout the album. After the tranquil post-rock meditation that is “Asa”, the band come out with all guns blazing on the tumultuous “Vorel”. Dave Turncrantz’ signature expressive percussive stomp lays the ground work, while Brian Cook’s throbbing bass lines and Mike Sullivan’s myriad of foreboding guitar riffs usher in total sonic destruction. The guitars cycle between atmospheric, dismal tremolo-picked riffs, the band’s signature low-end chug and monolithic, sludgy grooves that call Pelican to mind. These sludgy, more post-metal elements have been explored in previous Russian Circles releases, but none have been more pronounced than they are here. “Calla” also makes use of the doom and gloom with its apocalyptic, thunderous riffs and its walls of dissonance.
Album closer “Lisboa” also sticks out because of its use of lurching, seismic chords that are woven together with the band’s penchant for serene melodies and commanding tremolo-picked leads. But aside from these particular tracks, Guidance relies on the band’s typical formula. About half of this record sounds like it could have fit on any of the band previous records. “Mota” and “Afrika” in particular utilize the band’s standard “tension and release” method by crafting slow-burning softer passages, whether it be ambient dirges or palm-muted melodies, that eventually explode into complete sonic hell or towering melancholia. The setups to these songs are predictable and listeners will see them coming a mile away. Though these tracks are not terrible by any means, they are the typical Russian Circles‘ affair. As stated previously, it is business as usual.
Russian Circles have yet to write a bad record, but, they’ve written a lot of similar ones. They have a sound that is definitely solid and works to their benefit, but they do not venture enough outside of it. Guidance gets props for its use of sludge and post-metal characteristics, its straightforward approach and its darker tone. But about half of the record will hardly surprise longtime listeners of the band. It is a solid record and it is undeniably enjoyable, but the band is treading similar ground.
Release Date: August 5, 2016
Label: Sargent House
Favorite Tracks: “Vorel”, “Calla” and “Lisboa”
For Fans Of: Explosions in the Sky, Mouth of the Architect, Jakob and Caspian