By Tim Bolitho-Jones
Off to a dangerously middle-class wine tasting night and need some fresh music to impress the other guests with? You could do a lot worse than familiarising yourself with ‘Blood Year,’ the latest release from math-rock titans Russian Circles. Their seventh full-length sees them firing on all cylinders, even if it does clock in at a surprisingly compact forty-minute run time. It’s progressive, uncompromising and highly involving, Charles from the marketing department will be mightily impressed if you casually discuss its merits over a glass of Chateau Desmirail.
For Charles’ benefit though we should point out that Russian Circles are an instrumental band. There isn’t a single vocal line to be had in the entire album, the mood is crafted entirely with multi-layered guitar parts, shifting tempos and barrages of noise. And even with no human voices to be heard, it’s an experience as rich as the Stilton you’ll be snacking on all night.
First track ‘Hunter Moon’ kicks things off in a very stripped-down fashion. It’s little more than a guitar melody, a really simple and meditative one that’s as light as the touch of a feather. Then ‘Arluck’ comes crashing through the speakers and the mood abruptly changes. This one was written as a tribute to Matthew Arluck, guitarist from the band Sweet Cobra who died of cancer, but it carries only the vaguest trace of melancholy. The majority of it is a thundering mass of power chords and punishment, almost as if Russian Circles are keen to embrace the rockier side of their work and run with it.
A similar vibe can be found in ‘Milano,’ a track where they can be clearly heard indulging their heavy metal fantasies. It’s a dark and monolithic track, only a few steps removed from black metal, but the driving rhythms keep the pace high. Things get significantly bleaker on ‘Kohokia’ though, a noticeably slower and grimmer number. It starts off at a meandering pace, but after gradually building an oppressive tone for two and a half minutes, it explodes with a riff that can only be described as “Lovecraftian.” There’s something otherworldly about it and deeply unsettling, so when they introduce an optimistic little melody in the final third, you’re caught completely off-guard.
Once the brief introspection of ‘Ghost On High’ is out the way, the tempo picks up again for the final two tracks. ‘Sinaia’ is like a firework display sound-tracked by doom metal, while closing song ‘Quartered’ is probably the darkest of the lot. It’s sometimes difficult to put into words exactly how post-rock sounds, but if this isn’t what an astronaut being eaten by a gigantic space-squid would be like, then we’ll all get Isis tattoos. The band, not the… you know.
Actually, scratch that… there’s no noise in outer space.
Considering how ominous the whole thing is though, it is remarkable how quickly it flashes by. These songs are lengthy but not quite as grandiose as the ones Russian Circles wrote in their early career and there’s bound to be a long-term fan out there who feels a bit short changed by it. ‘Blood Year’ isn’t designed for radio play but it’s definitely a sleeker effort than their previous work, the fact they still manage to cram so many ideas in demonstrates a commitment to their craft. And they made that flimsy wine-club concept we abandoned in the second paragraph seem even lazier.
- ‘Blood Year’ is out now. You can get your copy HERE.
- Russian Circles play The Garage in Glasgow tonight (Monday 12 August), Gorilla in Manchester tomorrow (Tuesday 13 August) and EartH in Hackney on Wednesday (14 August).
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