5th August 2016 – Sargent House
Take a bow, Brian Cook. A musical titan of a man, he’s been involved in two top-shelf releases this year as well as touring with Mamiffer and doing god knows what else. Now Brian and his twinkly comrades have dropped another banger; following 2013′s Memorial and a headline slot at Desertfest, Russian Circles are back with their sixth release.
Russian Circles are very much a go-to name for post-metal, particularly with their links to other projects and impressive back catalogue. There’s not a clear development through their previous work; Guidance is a little riffier than some of their recent previous work, but also generally a little softer; more well-rounded.
The record opens with the country-esque “Asa“, evoking strong Earth vibes. This dissolves into “Vorel” where the electronics have more of a presence, lending the first quarter of the album an atonal texture which plays off their deep, full guitar tones. The whole first half of the record leans towards riffier sections reminiscent of Celestial-era Isis or some of the new Sumac material; it feels modern and it’s stunningly executed.
Later on, Guidance takes a gentler turn and looses quite a bit of momentum. “Afrika” (tragically not a Toto cover) has a Pelican-y feel and relies on a hypnotic vibe to carry it. Sadly in comparison to the heavier material it doesn’t carry their collective identity as well. These sections do break up what is quite a dense album but sadly they don’t have the filmic qualities of their counterparts on Station or Memorial. Towards the conclusion things pick up again, but the dip doesn’t have the impact here as it is on their peers’ material or their previous releases.
This slight disappointment is more than made up for by their pure ferocity elsewhere. Russian Circles have an ear for rhythm like no-one else; their guitar riffs often scalpel-like. Dave Turncrantz is on a career high and has done a stunning job, with crisp fills appearing at opportune moments. His chops are frightening but he’s done a great job of pacing his input. Ultimately it’s these qualities that make Russian Circles instantly identifiable, exciting and lovable; sadly the softer moments don’t convey this as well, but Guidance remains well-paced and packed with throaty, savage charm.
The reference points are a little broader through the record than previous outings. They’ve always avoided pastiche but the flairs of country and electronica seem especially well-placed and tasteful here; six releases is more than enough time for a band to mature after all. That certainly seems the case here, and though one could argue that this may come at the cost of an envelope-pushing mindset, there’s little complaint to be had in a well-trodden band settling into a groove.
Guidance is a great release for Russian Circles. The dip in ferocity doesn’t greatly matter if you like twinklier bits in your post-metal – so many of us do – and there’s still flair in their subtler moments. This sits nicely on a playlist with Bossk and Sumac’s 2016 releases; less cluttered than Sumac and more precise than Bossk. Ultimately they could have brought a little more to the table, but really there’s not much to complain about; Russian Circles slay, and this slays hard.