REVIEW: RUSSIAN CIRCLES - GNOSIS
Updated: Sep 3, 2022
Just how highly Russian Circles are regarded is reflected in the extent to which bearded music critics write about them. Since their inception almost 20 years ago Russian Circles have – along with scene peers such as Explosions in the Sky – provoked endless pontification from foppish flaneurs and alternative scene poohbahs on what defines Post Rock / Post Metal. Sometimes it seems the higher the quality of music, the more insufferable the type of critic; perhaps it is, debatably, a warped form of compliment. A large part of Russian Circles’ appeal is their ability to take an essentially very simple toolkit and use it optimally to create something truly profound. Despite being a trio, Russian Circles’ USP is to make deceivingly uncomplicated instrumental rock that they effortlessly distil into sublime and polygonal noise. Their sound has always been that little more chunky, unvarnished and rougher than some of the instrumental metal star gazing rock, but that has made the depths all the more subtle.
Gnosis finds Russian Circles heavier and more abrasive than some of their recent output. Some of the record is reminiscent of the band’s Station era but augmented by stirred-up angry turbulence and played in what feels like a vast dark hanger. The likes of Conduit is unequivocal with its metallic and serrated engine revving riffs that clank along noisily like Soviet era heavy plant machinery. The balefulness dials up from there too with the crashing, nightmarish – almost doomy - gravity of Vlastimil which whips into the sound of black metal being played in a mothballed industrial smelter plant. The sudden violent explosion, meanwhile, of the seething Betrayal is the record’s apogee of fury with giant, blurry vision concussions of teeth-clenching discordance.
Yet for all their cataclysmic weight and ominousness, the band have dabbled more in the lighter touch in recent years with Memorial (2013) and Guidance (2016) which were more cadenced and moodier rather than simply hard headedness. Here, the opener Tupilak is a wending, winding rocker for deep thinkers. The song twists through time changes and sequential passages with a strident confident gait. Yet there are more surprises. Ó Braonáin is a delicate, wistful interlude of dusky calm and plucked chords of awareness. It is like pausing with a happy memory with a pastiche of pastoral serenity.
The title track, meanwhile, is sheer authoritative post-metal par excellence. A patient and tense long-build, so disdained by the designer coffee/beard/spectacles muso types, develops a sense of slow-release drama in which you can get lost. The unfurling map of this song might not be too unpredictable to followers of this genre, but it is undeniably good and veritably classic post-rock / metal.
For all their non-verbal rage and intensity, however, Bloom is an absolute delight of an album closer. With all the tear-jerking poignancy of end credits, any post rock band would have paid to have this lovely, head nodding comedown on their albums. Again, so simple in construction and style with echoed, warming chords you wonder why this hasn’t been written into one of the great post-rock albums since 2006. It is also one of the least Russian Circles sounding songs yet it loses no element of identity as a consequence. Thus the wrath and spite of the preceding songs culminate in some kind of spiritual photosynthesis to sign off the record. Gnosis is a dynamic triumph and weighs in as one of Russian Circles’ best and most mature, well-rounded releases.
Here is a link to Russian Circles' bandcamp https://russiancirclesband.com/
Gnosis is available via Sargent House