Having just journeyed to Chicago on a work trip, I was amazed at how many music venues and venues playing host to live music there seemed to be. The city seemed to be steeped and influenced by music in a way that say Camden or Liverpool seem to be (once you’ve managed to circumnavigate the myriad of shops selling tourist shit and ne’re-do-wells trying to sell you bags of lawn cuttings masquerading as the finest pot known to man)…anyway I digress. Russian Circles are named after a popular ice hockey move apparently and there was me thinking it was something more arch given their predilection for multi layered and expansive music soundscapes. But no ice hockey it is. I have a confession to make here. I am a fully paid up fan of Russian Circles, so cards on the table, if you’re looking for a cold hearted, dispassionate overview of the band and this, their seventh full length effort, then you may have to look elsewhere. That’s not to say that this review is a 10/10 masterpiece/album of the year/deep throated genuflection but it’s just to give you an inkling (or full disclosure really) that these opinions are coming from a deep-rooted love of this band and what they represent.
I can see how this trio of Chicagoans might split opinion being in the oeuvre of three piece, instrumentalists such as Animals As Leaders et al, but this is no self-indulgent musical wank fest (not that those aforementioned band is…well maybe AAL do stray into that Steve Vai guitar musical masturbatory hair tossing Spinal Tap territory at times), this (and this is true for their back catalogue as it is for this their new release Blood Year) is music written and played for the sheer love of it. The fact that these guys tour for four fifths of the year should tell you that they love what they do and that there is an audience for their transcendental musical landscapes that veer from brutal nihilism in one bar to floaty, atmospheric soundtrack meanderings in a breath. I think that’s why this style of music, especially when it’s played by some of the finest musicians currently on the scene, is so evocative and beautiful to listen to. It’s like a lullaby of steel fisted metal, a gentle soliloquy of tortured math rock that canoes its way through heavy seas before finding a sheltered cove to pause, catch its breath before ploughing back into the frothing, boiling maelstrom of watery death.
‘Milano’ is the blueprint for such musical endeavours (I am sure it’s not named after shouty S.O.D and M.O.D. frontman Billy??) ebbing and flowing, with not a care in the world for getting where it’s going until it’s damn well ready to get there. Again it’s worth mentioning that Russian Circles bass player Brian Cook (formally of This Arms Are Snakes and the genius that was the much missed and math rock scene grandfathers Botch) who also plays in Aaron Turner’s Sumac, carries the fire and soul of this genre. You can hear it in his playing, forceful, but caressing, lapping at the edges before pivoting with the octopus like playing from drummer Dave Turncrantz is nothing short of amazing. And whilst it’s musically adept in terms of its playing, the songs don’t just meander in a pool of navel gazing, they flit between Fugazi like stabs of hardcore wrapped in the cloak of Russian Circles own musical embryonic fluid with a side serving of Cult Of Luna-esq bleak landscapes.
If you’re looking for musical signposts aside from the aforementioned Sumac and Fugazi, Neurosis, Pelican and And I Watch You From Afar are a natural touch points in both musical content but also in terms of what this album actually feels like. Recorded at Kurt Ballou’s GodCity Studio in part, you can hear the heft and weight that Blood Year carries. It’s at times both fragile and porcelain like before it segues into huge concrete waves that crash around your ears. Forgive me, I promised I wouldn’t go overboard on this and I said I would try to stay impartial but this album absolutely slays on all fronts. Blood Year takes what Russian Circles have done before and built on it. Hopefully this album will propel them onto bigger and shinier stages so everyone can experience what a majestic band these guys are.
(9.9/10 Nick Griffiths)