With their fifth album in a decade, instrumental band Russian Circles are proving that they know exactly what they are doing. As a post-whatever (who can keep up with these subgenres?) band, they have been clashing the brutal with the beautiful, creating soundscapes and catchy melodies that peaked with their outstanding 4th album Memorial. With Guidance, Russian Circles continue to master the art.
The MVP of the album is, without question, drummer Dave Turncrantz. The best kind of drummers are not those that merely blend in and provide a steady part, but those that contribute to the melody of the song and stand out. From the opening moments of the album’s ripping 2nd track “Vorel,” it is clear the Turncrantz is in charge, setting the tone with an intriguing drum part that leads into almost black-metal style tremolo riffing. It’s a furious and visceral performance and without question one of the best singular tracks of 2016 so far.
Not to discount guitarist Mike Sullivan, but the strength of Russian Circles lies in the rhythm combination of Turncrantz and bassist Brian Cook. The moments of songs where the guitar fades to the back, leaving just drum and bass provide some of the heaviest parts of the album and are major standouts. Take the opening moments of “Afrika,” for example. Sullivan repeats his gorgeous, effects driven guitar riff while Turncrantz takes control over the major melody. It’s the kind of incredible, goosebump inducing stuff that creates a natural musical flow that makes a single track feel like an entire journey.
For all of the aggression seen in songs like “Vorel” and “Calla,” Russian Circles also show their ability to dial it back. One of the stand out tracks is “Mota,” which features lots of natural harmonics from Sullivan. Every song on Guidance blends into one another, creative a cohesive and complete album. It’s almost as if it’s a play or novel that is fragmented into acts or chapters, ranging from the fast and aggressive to the melodic and understated.
As is with a lot of instrumental music, your mileage is going to vary on whether vocals are a necessity in your music. These songs absolutely do not need vocals and rely on atmosphere as their number one quality, and it comes in droves on Guidance. It’s a testament to their songwriting ability that this much emotion pours out of their instruments.
As an entire sonic composition, Guidance has an abundance of textured melodies without getting bogged down with the complexities seen in a lot of instrumental metal. Russian Circles don’t need to shred to show off their talent and knack for memorability and that’s what makes them so great. Add to it one of the best performances by a drummer you’ll hear all year, and you get an extremely impressive effort from a band in the prime of their careers.