Russian Circles Stand Out

November 15th, 2011

Russian Circles – The Bowery Ballroom – November 14, 2011

In an already crowded field of metal instrumental bands these days, it takes a lot of skill and innovation for Chicago’s Russian Circles to have worked their way into the playlists of fans alongside well-established acts like Pelican, Red Sparowes and This Will Destroy You. The group has managed to carve out a niche, combining elements of heavy doom metal and technical sampled guitar from Mike Sullivan. Their melodic propulsion has been steadily evolving across four albums, culminating in much of the material from Empros played last night at The Bowery Ballroom.

Dave Turncrantz has his work cut out for him on drums, creating the complex backbone of precise pounding in order to drive the epic heights and valleys of layered guitar and bass tones. The stage experience Russian Circles creates is as equally controlled, lit only by four blinding bare bulbs, which reflected off the polished cymbals when the sound dropped into full volume, leaving the band to play in silhouette. There were no pauses or interaction between songs, just a slowly fading cycle of delayed loops fading into distortion, as if this were one long calculated piece full of classical movements.

The exception was an unplanned break due to Brian Cook’s bass head completely blowing out midshow, which speaks to the punishment his amp has received over the tour, the physicality of their live show and their focus on bass-driven tracks, the guttural crunch clearly having taken its toll on equipment. After a quick fix, the trio was back to defying instrumental convention, forcing every note and melodic drone front and center, impossible to be heard as merely soundtrack, propping up those visually emotional moments, creating them out of the darkness. —Jason Dean