Review : Russian Circles - Empros
PopmattersPost-metal, like post-rock, seems to be one of the genres that has fallen prey to the music critic’s tendency to always need to have a genre for something that deviates from the norm. Whereas, for instance, much of Steve Vai’s music is classified as “instrumental metal”, that label doesn’t seem to suffice for bands like Russian Circles. There’s something more to the band’s sound, something that demands a new subgenre of metal music. There were plenty of bands before Russian Circles that fit the post-metal moniker. Isis and Neurosis are usually hailed as the purveyors of the genre, and bands like Tool displayed the genre’s signature elements prior to the inception of the phrase. Much like post-rock, many post-metal bands often do nothing more than play introspective, navel-gazing instrumentals. However, the genre’s finest musicians always manage to take the metal sound and turn it into something quite excellent. “In Fiction”, from Isis’ masterwork Panopticon, is a fine example of what post-metallers can do. The song manages to take a single repetitive riff and build it up into a pulverizingly heavy climax. Admittedly, even that formula can become a bit repetitive, but if the band’s sound is unique enough, they can really bring it to life.
With Empros, Russian Circles have done just that. Over their past three albums, they’ve displayed the genre’s typical elements, but there was always something special about their sound. Station, the band’s finest outing until this point, was a clean, precise, and straightforward piece that served as a bold statement of intent and a very big step up from their debut, Enter. The band’s strongest traits, particularly their use of looping guitar riffs and their phenomenal rhythm section, were at their peak on Station. The band’s third LP Geneva was a more contemplative work, one that took the basic elements present on Station, took them apart, and explored them much more deeply than the band had done before. Station was their blueprint; Geneva was a philosophical meditation on that blueprint.
Empros serves as the culmination of both albums. It is a refining of the band’s sound to the highest order. The band is at their best for the entirety of the record, from its powerful opening to its serene conclusion. Without a doubt it stands as the band’s masterpiece in a still-young career. What is particularly significant about this album is how strong the contributions from each of the band’s three members are. Each is worth mentioning in its own right, as each is integral to the album’s success....full text
RocksoundFor a genre that’s literally bursting at the seams these days, it’s hard to see how post-rock can really progress and stay fresh. Fortunately, these thoughts don’t seem to bother Russian Circles. The Chicagoans unleash album number four and show no signs of withering just yet. The rousing ‘309’ kicks things off while the glorious ‘Mladek’ sounds like they’ve enlisted The Edge (circa ‘Joshua Tree’) to lend a hand with the distinctive guitar tone. ‘Schipol’ is pure majestic bliss and closer ‘Praise Be Man’ sees bassist Brian Cook on rare vocal duties to create a dreamy Spiritualized moment. Their name might suggest one thing, but this lot are definitely not going around in circles; this is their best record yet....full text
SputnikmusicEmpros is the sound of a band thoroughly examining their sound and weeding out any and all flaws they may find in the process. However good their previous three records were, all were plagued by an oft-present lack of purpose. Yes, post-rock and those bands and genres associated with it is not a scene known for making quick, decisive, and to-the-point music. Constantly choosing to brood rather than burst, meander instead of progressing, or build in place of exploding, this is not always a bad thing when taken in context of the music, but the fact that thousands of bands follow the exact same formula makes real originality (something almost always essential to truly great music) hard to find. Russian Circles, a three-piece hailing from Chicago, have always been a band a few steps ahead of associated acts, but even at their strongest (2009's Geneva comes to mind) they have shown an unwillingness to completely pull away from genre conventions. Meandering is not always a weakness, but when a band shows as much potential as Russian Circles, one wonders why such a talented act feels the need to place songs like Philos in the midst of those like Malko.
Here, they seem to have recognized that this fundamental issue is the only thing holding their music back from true greatness, and they have taken every step to eliminate it. Their previous records took time to really get going, but on Empros Russian Circles cut straight to the chase and don't let up for almost the album's entire 41-minute runtime. Of course, there are brief respites like the quiet build that endures for the first half of Schiphol, but even here, its tranquil post-rock ambiance is shattered by soaring riffs and crunching bass in a way so abrupt that it may startle the listener. Also, album closer Praise Be Man is a 4.5 minute (the shortest on the album) odyssey of peaceful progressions, relaxing atmosphere, and calm singing, earning the title of the first non-instrumental Russian Circles song. However, the track is neither meandering nor boring, serving as a perfect outro to the most intense album of the band's career.
In their downgrading of buildups and tranquility, Russian Circles have chosen to drastically expand upon the more metallic influences that were hinted at on Geneva (these touches often caused them to be possibly mislabeled as a post-metal band). This is progression and growth at their finest. The crunchy, massive bass tone that made an appearance during specific moments in a few songs on previous albums now is present on all but the aforementioned Praise Be Man, elevating bassist Brian Cook to a stature held by few bassists in similar acts (Intronaut's Joe Lester is one whose role is comparable). Working in perfect unison with Mike Sullivan's intense axe-work, laying down line after line of glorious tone and driving rhythm (Atackia has some especially tasty riffs), his work on Empros cements his place as possibly the band's most utterly integral member....full text
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