The Attack And Decay Of: Russian Circles’ ‘Empros’

How amazing is it to listen to one of your favorite band’s new album and get to review it? It’s awesome.  Add being in the first city on the beginning of their US tour and having Brian Cook walk into the bar, smile, stick out his hand and say, “Hi, you’re Scott right? You’re RobotsMadeMan.” I held my composure, shook his hand and hopefully told him how excited I was for the show.

I knew, right then and there, my evening couldn’t get any better. I will not hide the fact Brian Cook is at the top of my list of bass gods. The show was, simply put, AMAZING! Russian Circles puts on a great show, just by the music they are playing. There are no fancy video screens, the lighting is minimal and they let the music speak for itself.  With the ample hearing loss I get standing right in front of Brian, I couldn’t think of a better place to be in that moment.

Let me also state, that Mike, Brian and Dave are three of the most down-to-earth guys you’ll ever meet. They shake hands, answer questions, sign autographs and even remember meeting you the year before. With all my expectations and preconceived notions on what these guys need to do as musicians to captivate me and keep me interested, they nail it with every record. Each album has evolved and shows a greater picture of what these three guys are capable of. So let us take a journey with Russian Circles.

Russian Circles is a Chicago-based three-piece that hit the instrumental metal scene back in 2006 with their debut album Enter. Their fourth studio album, Empros, was released October 25, 2011, on Sargent House and fueled my desire to write up a review on the album, to email their publicist and score an interview. (Stay tuned in at Hearingade for the interview.) My involvement just kept evolving. Like a Russian Circles song, life should always be evolving and moving forward.  There is a level of attack and decay that intrigues the listener and compels them to carry on through an emotional roller coaster. This is why I love these guys.

The band consists of , Dave Turncratnz on drums,  Brian Cook on bass/synths and Mike Sullivan on guitar. These three guys build a sound that resembles a symphony of players with the use of some hard-hitting drums that can just as easily be finessed, distortion, reverb, delays and loops. I had not heard of the band until Brian Cook had done studio work for their second album, Station, in 2008.

Brian had toured with Russian Circles with his former band These Arms Are Snakes and, shortly after their break, he joined the band and helped finish off their tour. If you are interested in what Mike and Dave were doing prior to RC, check out Dakota/Dakota and Riddle of Steel. In 2009 came their crushing, yet mesmerizing, album Geneva,where the band stepped out of their box and created the album not necessarily to be played live note for note, but to be an album that went beyond their live shows. The addition of horns and classical strings adds a new layer to what Russian Circles is becoming, not what they have been. The eerie and haunting “Fathom” was used in the “Dead Space 2” trailer and showed just how deep these three guys could go with what they are trying to create.

Simply put, Empros is a fantastic journey from beginning to end. Listen closely enough and a story unfolds inside your mind, and that story will be different for each individual. Dig deeper and really let your mind wander, you’ll find that each song has its own story to tell, subliminally drawing your attention to fascinating realms.

From the opening song, “309,” you can pick up on classic Russian Circles tones and rhythms,  from Mike’s distant guitar, Brian’s dirty bass and Dave’s solid drumming. When the song begins to transform and open up into where the album is headed, this is where the journey begins, taking you into new depths of what is Russian Circles. “Mladek” opens up as a dreamy soundscape, captivating you, giving you a sense of security … but hang on, you’re about to be taken somewhere else, a little bit deeper, the sense of security fades and the notes antagonize you, pulling at you — leaving you less than comfortable in your own skin.

Moving into the album, “Schiphol” continues the structure of eerie, dreamy intros that build momentum and holds you like a tantric sex climax and into the crescendo (I have no idea what that would actually be, but I read an article about Sting and he described it). I feel as I might become a broken record, describing the soft, lucid intros to each song, but they are there, building up into a glorious release.

“Atackla” might be one of my favorite songs on the album. Brian’s bass tone and playing is one of the predominate reasons I love RC and the song bleeds Brian’s sounds all over the room. Brian commands a great pedal board and uses it regularly to transform his  bass into many different sounds throughout the song. Coming toward the end of the album, “Batu” hangs over you with crushing bass hits that start and end with Dave’s cymbal and snare, all the while Mike is like Bob Ross painting happy little clouds over the canvas of the song. At the peak of the song, you’re thrust down into the depths, kicking and screaming the whole way through.

I sat surprised and, honestly, a bit shaken up by the ending song … “Praise Be To Man.” Take this song and see what not defining a band or a genre can lead to. I was tearful listening to the last song, simply because it was so beautiful. I have read a few reviews on Empros and it has been dubbed their “heaviest” album to date. I don’t necessarily disagree with this label, but I do feel this is their most concise record to date. Each song has a balance and such intriguing passages that leaves you wondering … What could they possibly do next?


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