Russian Circles - Memorial

Post-metal, as with fellow coined prefixes post-rock and post-punk, has gone the way of modern politics in recent years: promising far more and achieving no less than disgruntled dissatisfaction and disappointment at not just what's missing, but more-so what's not. The latter two may take out the larger cuts of attention in modern music, but post-metal isn't excused either from its recent lack of identity and unique affairs. But where umpteen artists pass under the radar - and despite claims, make as much a sonic and musical impact as a gargling bubble makes in...say...the Atlantic - Chicago three-piece Russian Circles beam out as an act not only bringing more than just crescendos and build-up's to the table, but for the past seven years of activity have established a sound demanding more than just momentary awareness. Empros in 2011 not only felt like a pinnacle of Circles' enveloping salvo of sound, but it came across almost like a wake-up to the genre as a whole. And for a genre glued together by two of the most lemon-like, face-scrunching tags post- and metal, the Chicago trio were always going to have their work cut out convincing non-believers. But it worked; hell, I had to admit my [at the time] conclusions of metal were a little off. With that, Memorial is a welcome sight t behold amid the vast ocean of non-conventional rock efforts.  

Here, Russian Circles instead find themselves trudging the darker, crankier confines of their sound in hopes of discovery, and unleashing something far more momentous than just bad/old memories. The result, while monumental in scale, brings with it a substance that isn't as physically grandiose, but is equally as enthralling and captivating: a story. You wouldn't expect proceedings would lead this way to begin with though, given the album's ninety-second hush of acoustic guitars on opener Memoriam. But as subtle strings whimper in the backdrop - gradually building as we reach the brief pivotal send-off - the apostle of tensely delightful suggestion that things are about to hit an extreme, is all too present. So as Deficit storms into play, it's clear Russian Circles have lost none of their eagerness to direct our attention for the bigger picture, even if it's a picture in another light, we might want to flee from. But here, as gravelly guitars strike and grate at its surroundings - percussion stampeding rather than skipping to in rhythmic marches - the track's melodic structure delves deeper into the impervious darkening of Circle's confinement as opposed to building to something rudimentarily grander or exemplifying in nature. It's this descent to the earthly textures of guitars that come into play in the track's second half - aided more-so by the gaseous wail of guitars gushing into the backdrop near its climax like billowing smoke - that garners a desirably more concrete and dynamic atmosphere for the listener to become as much equally swallowed up by. 

1777 while cleansing its palette straightafter, doesn't falter when its core melodic and tonal elements finally come into play. In saying this it's arguably the richest track to focus on such elements, on the album - guitars sweeping between chords amidst a swarm of distortion and visibility-reduced production. But even with this obviousness, the band don't lose their sight on what is clearly an album-encompassed objective to get to the heart of proceedings, no matter how deep they have to sink or how engrossed they're required to be in this assertive dark ambience that densely shrouds their instrumentation like some unwanted paranoia. The transition to the dusty-road, salt plain-like isolation of Cheyenne seems to add reason to the notion that there could possibly a much greater emphasis on a narrative this time round, as if the album could rightly be taken as a scene-for-scene sequence-of-events as well as this exploratory analysis most post-rock/post-metal records tend to stand for. The track's bittersweet trajectory of acoustics and claustrophobia-enducing feedback feels far more first-person in perspective, like the unnamed character in question is at one's tethers; trying frantically to stay focused on the ideal, but struggling the more time passes. 

So while Burial's decision is to align its formless salvo of guitars behind the track's rampant drum rhythms, this new-found perception of Circle's musical delivery actually breathes an entirely new walk of life into what is a more direct and consistent track - guitars jabbing in one-two pockets through a sequence of ascending and descending chord changes. But while I'm excited by the prospect of Circles' characterising their sound and giving their territorial sweep of delivery a more emotional context, I feel the track lacks the necessary, and desired, exploration that previous tracks tended to focus on. Thus the push to what is screaming a golden opportunity to hit the listener where it factors the most, comes off amiss at one of Circles' potentially crucial points on the record. Ethel equally strives for an alternative to such emotive heights and to begin the premise with its lead of sloping guitar leads and tumbling percussion, intrigues me. But again while the initial substance succeeds in reeling us in and drawing up the suggestion of a narrative and personal perspective, the track dithers thereafter and merely loops the pattern to fill up the remaining duration.

It's clear the album's latter half attempts a focus on escaping the dark that Circles express as having infested the pseudo-visual representation they bring to the forefront superbly. At times they push this emphasis on more sequentially-structured components to good effect and as a whole, the delivery prevails. But as much as the three-piece fortify a balance with effect-driven guitars and melody to upscale the impact, there are just-as-equally moments where the lack of concrete or uniformed dialogue, comes back to haunt them. The comfort to take away from this glaring criticism though, as Lebaron points out, is that while these supposed 'chapters' or moments in the album's sequence may be less conjoined - and moreso undergoes pin-pointing moments rather than connecting them - is that Circles can still utilize the effectiveness of their guitar textures and dynamics to instigate tension and, at the very most, a suggestiveness about the non-audible factors of their concepts. With Memorial we get some moderate closure in the way the track appears to send us off rather than outright end proceedings on a whim. But with Chelsea Wolfe providing vocals that are eerily vacant, but more importantly capturing that notion of a journey entering another phase rather than full-on ending, the band's passiveness isn't entirely oblique or mistranslated - grainy guitar strums and percussion having less the weight and integrity as previous tracks, but marrying up with Wolfe's voice in an intriguing, if not exciting, way.

To exceed the heights of the previous album is a task very few bands manage to tackle with even fewer succeeding in such challenge. Russian Circles may not be coming away from Memorial with anything game-changing or as monumentous as previous, but on the band's fifth album, even where the trio's rich and lavish exertion of guitar-led compositions end up stretched a little thin, many will look to the heart of Circles' sounds and find the highlights of the album lie at its lowest and least glistening of deliveries. The three-piece from Chicago continue to acheive more than crash-coursing what's required in a build-up or how much one should barrage their listener with when offering noise-inflicted instrumentation. And in using their darkly wasteland of soundscapes, the experience remains of one finding yourself (perhaps involuntarily) involved in this vigorous affair as it is about reacting immediately, without warning, to the trio's grittier, shattering ferocity of guitars and percussion. Because of this, Russian Circles remain one of post-metal's exuberent bands still creating with more than the intent to just fill up disc space. Their will be those who will feel dejected at the lesser sternness and development in the latter proceedings. But in most cases, Memorial still stands as one more respected release in a discography continually shining black light on a rather oversaturated blinding of redundant post- elements.
~Jordan Helm


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Discovery: Russian Circles - Memorial
Russian Circles - Memorial
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