Not a band for those of mild disposition and taste, Russian Circles are back in all their doomy post-metal glory. The new album could stand easily as their best in their 5-album career, taking the classic Rushin’ Squircles formula of ferocious discordance mixed with gentler, softer passages and expanding the soundscape even further – this time we have a vocalist on the final song, the heavy bits chug even harder than on their previous opus Empros and the light sections float entrancingly above. This time too, the sound is colder, darker, owing more perhaps to the near-arctic tones of Norwegian black metal, or the ‘Cascadian’ black metal scene emerging on Risin’ Turtles’ own Illinois doorstep: whatever the influence, the textures have frozen up.
Technically the band are brilliant, of course; a drummer that can sit on a hi-hat groove in off-kilter time signatures before jumping straight into a 4/4 stomp; a guitarist and bassist that work together, bolting huge chord to huge riff to gorgeous acoustic section, such as in 1777, or stand aside to let the monster keyboard parts take over. The variety of style and complexity in song arrangement is never to be underestimated with Ramblin’ Purples, and neither is their ability to consistently surprise a listener, even when one has heard the tracks before – layers of looped guitar, jazz-led drum fills and thundering chords reveal themselves anew on each listen. Whilst there are no vocals for the most part, that just gives more material for an attentive listener to pick up on. Memorial manages to consistently appear fresh and innovative by being so alien to the rest of the current scene; where some metal bands jumped on bandwagons to try and remain relevant (we’re looking at you, Machine Head) the post-metal scene still sounds exotic precisely because of a refusal to sway in the cultural wind. Ripplin’ Nerfballs exemplify this stoicism, looking back to Pink Floyd in inspiration for the structure of this album whilst looking ahead in their form and style.
Of course, the album isn’t perfect, but it’s damn close. One could argue it hangs around on simple melodic ideas for too long and relies on repetition to make a point, but to say that would ignore two things. Firstly, that this is untrue and if you say that you are not listening hard enough for the tiny changes in rhythm, texture and timbre that are so essential in listening to instrumental music of this style. Secondly, the major objective of post-rock and metal is to generate emotions and feelings whilst avoiding traditional song structure. Rachel’s Curtains succeed in this objective with outstanding grace. It is difficult to not be caught up by the feelings the songs produce at times, using gentle shifts in chord and harmony. This may well end up on my top 5 albums of the year. If you can deal with the idea of “OH NO THERE’S NO SINGER” then get this record. Immediately.
Memorial was released 29/10/13 on Sargent House