Over the weekend, one of my favorite instrumental bands came to the Casbah in San Diego. Unfortunately, I was not one of the lucky fans who got to attend their sold out show. Although I have seen them three times before, I was sad knowing that Russian Circles was playing just fifteen miles away from my home, and I wasn’t there. Luckily, I was able to imagine myself there while listening to their newest album “Memorial.”
Russian Circles is a band from Chicago, consisting of guitarist Mike Sullivan, bassist Brian Cook, and drummer Dave Turncrantz, along with several additional musicians including Chelsea Wolfe. Purely instrumental (except for sparse lyrics in the last song), Russian Circles is a mix of post-metal and art rock. With albums that tend to be fewer in number and longer in size, their newest album “Memorial” breaks the trend with more songs and shorter tracks. This does not take away from their ability, though, as I can easily say that “Memorial” is their best album yet.
When discussing instrumental albums, I have a hard time finding the right words to describe them. Several albums lack emotion, while some albums are merely a canvas to promote individual musicians. Without lyrics to help describe the overall theme, most listeners I’ve talked to have a hard time connecting with the band. Fortunately for Russian Circles, their music speaks for themselves, and is the first instrumental band I’ve found that doesn’t desperately need a singer to connect with me. Their ability to create such intense and complex textures easily provides an opportunity for the audience to feel, to change in mood, and to relate. From the palm-muted rhythm to the airy solos, the audience can feel the chills running up their collective spine. With an atmospheric take on deep metal chords, “Memorial” always excites me as a listener.
The album begins and ends in the same manner, with a clean guitar pattern and a simple but meaningful drumbeat. Everything is muted, subdued, and gloomy, perfectly fitting with this album in whole. Both “Memorium” and “Memorial” deliver a sense of mourning, like a eulogy or a reflection, as the song titles suggest. Chelsea Wolfe’s distant, yet impactful voice speaks the only words on this album:
“I cannot say what years have come and gone / I only know the silence, it breathed on and on / What sang in me sings no more, where stood a wild heart stirred no more / There stood a wild heart and I have been slain / Head full of ghosts tonight, have I gone insane? / Was it wrong to go down? To want you to stay? / Head full of ghosts tonight, have I gone insane?” (source)
If these songs express mourning, then the song “Burial” suggests either power or frustration due to Turncrantz’s presence. Acting as what I believe is the album’s climax, “Burial” is the hardest song on an album filled with melodic and beautiful guitar patterns. One can easily hear and feel the rise and fall throughout the album. To think that only three people are able to create such intricate songs is amazing, with such high production quality and composition. The technicality behind the ambient textures upon the song structure is easily felt, and helps to further stamp their name as one of the best composers in the metal genre.
By far, my favorite aspect of this album and band is the listening experience I receive with Dave Turncrantz on drums, whether in concert or sitting in my bedroom. That man can truly beat the hell out of those drums! I love to listen to the subtle changes in technique such as changing time signatures, the solos and fills he uses to round out an important chorus, and the sheer power of his hands and feet. My favorite moments on this album are all because of Turncrantz, from the drum solo at the end of “1777,” to the power behind the tom hits in “Deficit,” to the crashing cymbals in “Lebaron.” I can’t help but turn my speakers to a dangerous level whenever I hear any of Russian Circle’s albums.
I absolutely recommend listening to Russian Circles, but I implore you to see them live. Despite how awesome they are on the record, they are much more amazing to see live. With a plethora of sound pedals, Sullivan and Cook are able to loop guitar sequences and further build on their sound. As for the drums, no need to ruin the surprise that’s in store for you first-timers; Turncrantz is simply amazing. If you’re fans of the bands Rosetta, Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Tides of Man, or any other great instrumental bands, then this album is for you. Please support this band by checking out their website here, or by following them on Facebook or Twitter. The band is also currently touring in celebration of their 10 year anniversary, so go check them out!
And to Sullivan, Cook, and Turncrantz: I’ll see you guys on your next tour!
I also wanted to give a shout out to my lovely wife! Today is her birthday, so I wanted to wish her a very special birthday!