Russian Circles - Guidance (Sargent House)

Album number six is an impressive addition to the Chicago post-rock band's catalogue

Released Aug 4th, 2016 via Sargent House / By Erick Mertz
Russian Circles - Guidance (Sargent House) An air of militaristic extremism greets the audience’s eye on the cover of Guidance the sixth full-length album by Chicago post-rock three-piece Russian Circles. In a black and white photo, a disorganized but no less draconian group of officers eye a photographer with what could only be described as brutal intentions. This is the kind of dour image one expects out of a history book, lessons of colonialism and absolute power gone bad.

What greets the listener’s ear is, however, something more nuanced. The opening track on Guidance, “Asa” is four minutes of thoughtful, acoustic guitars that only breaks down into a thunderous assault of percussion and menacing power riffs on the subsequent track, “Vorel”. It’s this fundamental contrast and the seamless transition between them that makes Russian Circles one of the banner bands of modern post-rock, moments of light and sensuousness hammered down by fits of raw aggression.

Guidance is their first record since 2013’s Memorial (review) which was, at the time of release, their most polarizing yet by bassist Brian Cook. If that record was a dichotomy of light and dark then this is a gentle pull back on those reins. There isn’t such a schism here. A great deal of space exists between the heavy moments and the restrained. Russian Circles, for the first time in their discography, seem to find bliss in the mid-tempo.

Produced by Kurt Ballou (whose recent credits have included brilliant work by Sumac, Slaves Beyond Death and many others) Guidance counts as one of the gems in the band’s already impressive discography. The seven tracks span an array of moods, from aspiring on the progressive rock “Mota” a song that ultimately crests in an massive wave, to the extreme flourishes that carry “Calla” on. What separates Russian Circles from other post rock/post metal bands is their dogmatic approach to songwriting.

Light on experimentation, Guidance doesn’t survive on gimmicks. Instead, it stands as a real testament to how far the band can press forward with their sound.