Gig Review: Russian Circles

Who: Russian Circles

Where: The Hi-Fi, Melbourne

When: 1st May 2014

There was a rather strange yet expectant air of reservedness mixed with elements of untainted fervour amongst the audience in the minutes leading up to Russian Circles’ appearance. The Chicago three-piece were in town to promote their most recent album, Memorial, released on the ever-dependable Los Angeles label, Sargent House.

Russian Circles have, at times, been compared to the likes of fellow eardrum bashers such as Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky, And So I Watch You From Afar, and My Bloody Valentine amongst others, so you have a rough idea of what to expect when they hit the stage. While the band’s collective sound may at times not solely fall under the post-rock or post-metal banner, elements of their muscular influences do shine through rather brightly.

The trio of Mike Sullivan (guitar), David Turncrantz (drums), and Brian Cook (bass and keyboards), casually strode on stage just after 10.30pm and took their positions on the dimly lit and minimally set up stage. After a few minutes of noodling away in preparation for what was to come, the opening drum sounds of ‘Harper Lewis’ kicked off what became  a pulverising and intense 70 minutes.

The song’s slow paced intro incorporated some delicate soundscapes and heavy bass licks, as well as highlighting Turncrantz’s drumming ability right from the off. Heads began bobbing up and down slowly in the audience, as the band seemingly teased them with their well-executed ‘calm before the storm and back to the calm again’ approach throughout.

Both the intensity and aggressiveness of all three member’s playing went up a notch or ten throughout ‘309’ (from their previous record Empros)  especially about half way through. Cook’s crunching bass exploded into life, with the man himself moving in time with what seemed like all three instruments. Sullivan’s layered guitar elements emanated heaviness, while Turncrantz gave a performance of undeniably crispness while pounding away as if his life depended on it.

‘1777’ was the first track from Memorial to be aired, and its epic and at times melancholic rhythms allowed Russian Circles to step back from the brutality of their metal tinged outpourings. Their tightness as a live act is quite a sight to behold, something that was even more remarkable given the fact that Turncrantz morphed into a weird Animal-like hybrid behind the kit, while never going off kilter.

Next up was ‘Geneva’, which received quite a loud cheer from all those in attendance. However, unlike some of the previous numbers, it wasn’t given as much time to build up, as Cook’s ferocious basslines kick started yet another mini rock opera from these three aggressive yet seemingly suppressed musicians. With its split time signatures coupled alongside Sullivan’s incendiary guitar lines, ‘Geneva’ painted a picture of what a tornado and the crashing of huge waves would sound like if they crossed paths in an enclosed mosh pit.

‘Schiphol’ began with a gentle and slow guitar noise, which sounded quite reminiscent of Texan’s Explosions In The Sky. Sullivan’s banshee like effects were then abruptly and barbarically ripped apart, as Cook’s booming bass and Turncrantz’ cacophonous drum bashing vibrated around the room. ‘Schiphol’, along with ‘Deficit’ and ‘Carpe’, felt as though Russian Circles performed real Jekyll and Hide moments during the night.

One of the only negatives of the show was that a lot of the momentum that was built up during each song was slowly lost due to the time the three guys took to get ready in between tunes. Relying on what seemed like pre-recorded looped effects took it down a peg or two, as a fair bit of muttering could be heard down the back.

‘Burial’ allowed the threesome to stretch their ear bleeding levels to new heights, while ‘Youngblood’ kindly brought the level down – though only for the first half, giving the ears time to come to terms with what had just happened to them!

The band finished on a high with ‘Mladek’, which once again ended in a flurry of dissonant noise but also highlighted their rather exquisite musical capabilities.

Set List – ‘Harper Lewis’, ‘309’, ‘1777’, ‘Geneva’, ‘Schiphol’, ‘Deficit’, ‘Carpe’, ‘Burial’ and ‘Mladek’

This review was written for Tonedeaf (An Australian music site)

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