The members of Chicago’s Russian Circles must exist in a world much different from our own. That is the only explanation that can be ascertained from their brand of cataclysmic, apocalyptic instru-metal. Their most recent release—Empros, out this week on Sargent House and currently streaming on their bandcamp—continues their eardrum shredding antics, but brings elements of pop and positivity that were previously unseen. Empros walks a tightrope between the two seemingly similar genres of “post-rock” and “post-metal.” Is Russian Circles at a post-crossroads?
In the grand post-spectrum, Russian Circles has traditionally been found in the heaviest of shades. Their 2006 Flameshovel Records debut Enter set the bar significantly high, showcasing some of the most shattering, blood boiling jams this side of Earth. The threesome continued to release two albums in the interim, all with equal merit and pitfalls. Despite unmatched instrumental prowess and amazing showmanship, Russian Circles have taken a backseat to more prominent post-bands like Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky. Possibly to help with their accessibility, Russian Circles have gradually added elements like hooks and the occasional major key. Seemingly torn by their two warring sides, Empros is the sound of a band trying to accomplish two goals at once—and unfortunately missing both.
Empros has some of the most chilling transitions, awe-inspiring drum tracks and most complex guitar loops in a record this year; the types of pieces that we have come to expect from a group of this caliber. “Attackla,” the seven and a half minute fourth track is a perfect example of the band hammering on all cylinders. Put some headphones on.
Russian Circles – “Attackla”
There are many moments throughout Empros that are of the same twisted vein, but there are also the new delicate pieces of introspection. Track three—“Schiphol”—features a repetitive acoustic line, with overlaying atmospherics out of The Antlers’ “Kettering.”
Russian Circles – “Schiphol”
It’s moments like “Schiphol” where Empros takes some pretty serious steps beyond Russian Circles’ core competencies of kicking ass and taking eardrums. While these new elements can be seen as a breath of fresh air, they are attacked in the same grandiose matter the band treats metal riffs. Take a listen to Empros’s sore thumb closing track “Praise Be Man.”
Russian Circles – “Praise Be Man”
This brings up serious questions about the sustainability and limitations of the post-genres. Part minimalism, part shoegaze, part epic storytelling and part “cyborg rock,” post-rock is both strictly defined and entirely indeterminate. By relegating their songwriting to structures based more upon gradual evolution and escalation rather than hooks and choruses, post-rock musicians seem to be limitless inside their genre. Post-metal—a post-fusion genre—employ trademark metal techniques, giving the post-sound some oft-lacking teeth. By combining two pretty similar, yet largely open-ended genres—both within their realm of talent—Russian Circles have found a sound in which they can operate freely. Right?
Wrong, unfortunately. By committing themselves to making the most grand and crushing of tunes, Russian Circles have epic-ed themselves right into a box, at least on the record. Even while incorporating the new sound explorations, Russian Circles have managed to make another flawed record.
Empros is by no means a miss. These tracks will be incredible live, as the band always is. But Russian Circles lack of progress while attempting to do so is more a glaring issue for the genre than for the band. Is there progress to be found beyond post? What elements will be prominent in the first post-post-rock band?