Arriving via Sargent House on 19th August
Across the span of their previous seven studio albums, Chicago-based instrumental trio Russian Circles traversed a diverse topography of sounds, moods, and approaches with their limited armoury of drums, bass, and guitar. It’s difficult to chart an evolution in their sound when their records have always felt like well-curated playlists. It wasn’t uncommon to hear drone-heavy meditations, dazzling prog exercises, knuckle-dragging riff-fests, haunting folk ballads, and tension-baiting noise rock all within the span of one album. Still, it’s difficult to ignore the progression from the pensive and intricate melodies of Enter (2006) to the layered distorted dirges of Blood Year (2019). It’s been a gradual sonic shift owing to the band’s rigorous tour schedule and a predilection towards playing their more authoritative material on stage. But with their latest album, Gnosis, Russian Circles eschew the varied terrain of their past work and bulldoze a path through the most tumultuous and harrowing territory of their sound.
Russian Circles have also released their first ever music video for the title track of their forthcoming LP Gnosis, available next week, 19th August, via Sargent House. The centrepiece of the album “Gnosis” begins with a slow-build exercise in krautrock methodologies—drones, guitar arpeggios, cosmic synth, hypnotic drum patterns—that eventually explodes into the wall-of-sound bombardment Russian Circles are known for. The accompanying video, directed/edited by Joe Kell, is full of dark imagery driving towards the actual definition of the word “Gnosis.” The band explains:
“Gnosis” is a special song that has grown with us over a number of years. The main theme of the song was re-conceptualised so many times that it provided nearly endless arrangement options. It’s rewarding to see such a minimal song idea evolve into one of our most dynamic and fully-realised songs to date.
When discussing a concept for the video, we agreed we wanted cinematic footage of nature and humanity. Ultimately, we wanted the video to feel fresh and inspiring despite dealing with a dark theme. Similarly, we wanted to compel viewers to re-watch the video and get something new from each viewing. Somehow, editor Joe Kell masterfully made this all happen.
As was the case for so many artists in the age of COVID, the obstacles of geography and isolation forced Russian Circles to reevaluate their writing process. Rather than crafting songs out of fragmented ideas in the practice room, full songs were written and recorded independently before being shared with other members, so that their initial vision was retained. While these demos spanned the full breadth of the band’s varied styles, the more cinematic compositions were ultimately excised in favour of the physically cathartic pieces.
Gnosis crashes out of the gate with “Tupilak,” where a distorted tremolo-picked baritone guitar gradually unfurls a gnarled low-end riff as drums, electric guitars, and bass synth further augment the track’s cavernous bottom-feeder gloom. The song ramps up to triumphant chordal refrains before descending into a gloriously ham-fisted Melvins-esque breakdown elevated by guitarist Mike Sullivan’s linear melodic accents. From there, the album descends into increasingly barbaric territories with the relentless crusher “Conduit.” Sullivan lays down an onslaught of hummingbird-wristed palm-muted death metal riffs while drummer Dave Turncrantz and bassist Brian Cook shift gears with each section of the song—jumping between half-time, quarter-time, and full-time, dropping in and out of the mix, punctuating accents in one section and matching Sullivan note for note in others. Side A ends with the album centrepiece “Gnosis.” The first half of the song is a slow-build exercise in krautrock methodologies—drones, guitar arpeggios, cosmic synth, hypnotic drum patterns—that eventually explodes into the wall-of-sound bombardment Russian Circles are known for. The song closes with a reductionist pummelling of shifting palm-muted chugs draped in woozy delay.
The second half of Gnosis continues to mine the bleakest angles of Russian Circles’ sound. “Vlastimil” leans into sinister metallic leads, curdled harmonies, and black metal-inspired blast beat blitzkriegs before landing on a crushing polyrhythmic breakdown. There’s a brief respite in the stark and forlorn guitar interlude of “Ó Braonáin” before the band returns with the unmitigated assault of “Betrayal.” Only with the album’s final track “Bloom” does the band touch upon the restraint and melodicism showcased on earlier records, as if providing a light at the end of a tunnel.
As with Blood Year, Gnosis was engineered and mixed by Kurt Ballou. Drums and bass were tracked at Electrical Audio in Chicago to maximize the natural room sounds of the rhythm section. Guitar and synth overdubs were conducted at God City in Salem, MA to take advantage of Ballou’s vast inventory of amps and effects pedals. Despite the entirety of the album being written remotely, the songs were recorded with the full band playing together to retain the live feel of the material.
Owing to the climate of the times and a new writing method, Russian Circles created their most fuming and focused work to date—an album that favours the exorcism of two years’ worth of tension over the melancholy and restraint that often coloured their past endeavours.
RUSSIAN CIRCLES EU TOUR 2023 (Co Headline w/ Cult Of Luna)
March 17 Copenhagen, DK – Store Vega
March 18 Berlin, DE – Huxleys
March 19 Wiesbaden, DE – Schlachthof
March 20 Utrecht, NL – Tivoli Ronda
March 21 Brussels, BE – AB
March 22 Paris, FR – Olympia
March 23 Stuttgart, DE – Wizemann
March 24 Lausanne, CH – Les Docks
March 25 Ljubljana, SI – Kino Siska
March 27 Vienna, AT – Arena
March 28 Munich, DE – Muffathalle
March 29 Prague, CZ – Roxy
March 30 Krakow, PL – Studio
March 31 Warsaw, PL – Progresja
5. Ó Braonáin
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