Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Russian Circles - Empros

Coming from a guy who's lived most of his musical life in the overlapping walls of electronic melodies, I must plead for forgiveness for my previous assumptions on the similarly linked-chain genre that is Metal. It's not easy to block out the default envisioning of black-and-white band photos; late-20s/early 30s long-haired apathetic creatives; power chords and deafening drum hits all encompassed in an album that, in some cases, has a cover one would assume a 6 year old had illustrated, let alone conjured up.

So here I am saying sorry. In its seemingly later years of a genre that continues to ride high (in strength, quite literally) the idea of metal as maximizing ear-busting boldness in sound has reinvented itself, no longer just teen-ridden angst in audio form. Last year, we had Japanese band, Envy, explode into life with their metal-driven fusion of post-rock and post-hardcore ventures on 'Recitation'. And here, quite possibly the dark-horse of 2011, is where we find another revitalized multi-genre three-piece present their follow-up. The band, is Russian Circles. The album, is 'Empros'

Anyone who is frustratingly picky on records based on track-numbers and track-lengths will find initial viewing of Circles to be both intriguing, yet carefully considered. Where most post-rock/instrumental rock bands focus their compositions to that of double-number minute lengths, the idea that this band may in all light bring something new to the table regarding the music's execution and length can either mean we are about to be graciously pleased, or sourly disappointed. How wonderful then it is, that we find these lesser-lengthened tracks are bursting with an energy that is neither sailing in ill-ridden noise nor dragged so comprehensively into the ground, much like many a fusion-of-genres record.

First track '309' is a pure octave-switching fluster of heavy-hitting chords and weighted drum hits. What sounds like a mere unleashing of stress or anger, or any other troubling state of emotion, in actuality creates an awe of mystery and purposeless discovery, as if (like the album cover) wavering through a forest, caught in the unexpected glimmer of sunlight and heat. The switching of acute tuning is what gives the track its lengthened listenability. If not strummed into submissive blurts of chords, then it's the narrowed twitches or squeezing of clouded strings that give the song its expansive performance.

Because, after all, as much as this is a recording, the way the guitars fluster, almost boldly and with little concern, give the sounds of the strings (mumbling of bass and flat-palmed percussion providing back-up) a more human and sentient affirmation that there is life to this structure...and in result, the structure has been cleverly thought-out.

'Mladek' examples this with perfect clarity; its initial mixture soon cut short by this almost abrupt wavering once more between differing chords and shifts in the musical scale. The darting of high-standing guitar strings fuse become lost in the rumble of chords and juggling of drum rhythms, later on in the track and before long, the composition is led into one of rock's more signature transitions to its finale. The track, however, seemingly refuses to end. Indeed, the final half-minute, in a chillingly breathless attempt, seemingly dies out as if fully depleted of its energy.

But the three-piece are not all heavy-hitting in their approach. 'Schiphol' demonstrates their more elegant and gentle side to melodic post-rock. Like their genre superiors Mogwai or God Is An Astronaut, behind a wavering of sailing electric guitars, simple strums of acoustic strings lead the track along a merry journey. The effect-heavy backing does just enough here to keep the track together and the picking of strings give the track that much-needed lift of life.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that the band have, maybe in initial stages, hoped for these sweepings of layered instrumentation to help keep the sound flowing. But where other acts may use it as a way to cover up a silence that in actuality, represents a lack of ideas or means to progress a composition forward, Russian Circles, however, use its eeriness and surreal envisioning to provide their more heavier sounds to break through and capture the listener's imagination. 'Batu', like some heavily layered, heavily maximized shoegaze song, blurts its power chord, drum-clashing progression over a wall of ceiling-high drones.

Closer 'Praise Be Man', the album's shortest song and, on reflection, weakest execution, presents to us a more grittier, rustier alternative to the band's use of held-on chords and melodic plucks of strings. It doesn't share the same passion and direct storytelling-esque nature to its sound, but it does give us a taste of the band's alternating direction in both the music's creation as well as its experimentation in effects and layering.

But if you're willing to look beyond this slight hiccup, and are willing to look beyond an outsider's doubtful tagging this as 'metal' or 'post-rock', what you'll find is that 'Empros' delivers to us more than just three men's extroverted outlaying of effect-driven heavy-hitting rock music. What lies in these six boldly crafted tracks in addition is something, that potentially is, stricken with swings of emotion and considerate after-thoughts. It's metal rock, it's post-rock. But without lyrics, and without vocals, through its changing sound, it expresses more than any word could.


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