Russian Circles – ‘Blood Year’

By Liam Knowles

Russian Circles appeared on the post-rock/metal scene in 2006 with their superb debut ‘Enter’ and the genre-bending power-trio have been making ambitious, challenging and innovative instrumental music ever since. You’d maybe wonder how fresh a sound can be created by just three people, with zero vocals, 13 years into their career. ‘Blood Year’ will put paid to those thoughts, as Russian Circles have just released some of the best material in their esteemed discography.

The ambient, gradual build of ‘Hunter Moon’ sets the stage beautifully for what’s to come, with a combination of sparse finger picking and subtly delayed slide guitar creating a subdued yet cinematic atmosphere before the driving drums of ‘Arluck’ kickstart the album properly. The drums break briefly to make room for Brian Cook’s distinctively muscular bass tone before kicking back in to push the song forward. Guitarist Mike Sullivan then sets about building layers of tapped guitar melodies and rhythmic chugging that rise and fall around each other and eventually become that trademark Russian Circles wall of sound at around the 5:30 mark. Whilst a lot of post-metal bands rely on atmosphere alone to get the job done, Russian Circles don’t shy away from catchy hooks that will lodge themselves in your brain just as easily as any vocal line would, and this track is chock-full of them.

That’s not to say that Russian Circles aren’t big on atmosphere. Gargantuan tracks like ‘Milano’ and ‘Quartered’ carry more weight than most bands with way more members/instruments could ever hope to generate, and they’re also comfortable letting their brooding, sinister side out on the likes of ‘Kohokia’. Then there’s the guitar-only ‘Ghost On High’ that harks back to the album’s subtle introduction before allowing the sublime ‘Sinaia’ to build to a devastating crescendo.

These three individuals have been honing their craft together for over a decade and it more than shows on ‘Blood Year’. It’s an ambitious record, as you would expect, but it also feels strangely accessible and direct compared to some of their older material and certainly feels more organic than its predecessor, 2016’s ‘Guidance’. If Russian Circles can continue to channel their songwriting focus to this degree, then there’s no reason they can’t be regarded as one of instrumental music’s brightest stars for another decade and beyond.

LIAM KNOWLES

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