Chicago trio Russian Circles is taking its time, and it shows. Blood Year is precise where it needs to be and unhinged when necessary. The album floats from an ambient beginning to a pummeling ending.
Once the drums of “Arluck” arrive, fans will breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that they will soon be satiated. Russian Circles rolls well, but rocks better. Three years of touring prompted the band to write their songs in the same room in order to replicate the live experience. The heads bang; the cell phone lights go up. This is power.
Ironically, the press release notes that Guidance was never intended as social commentary (we never thought that it was), but as a reference to the band’s “absence of a blueprint as they navigated their second decade.” In like fashion, Blood Year could be construed as a political reflection (a book that shares the title is subtitled “The Unraveling of Western Counterterrorism,” which would also be a great name for an album); but it’s more of a cathartic release. The thick, heavy “Milano” could refer to the Italian city or even the chocolate cookie, but with Russian Circles, the riffs are far more important than the titles. In this standout, the lead guitar manages to stay upright atop layers of sludge. This may be a blood year, but the band is standing its ground, ceding nothing.
Post-metal fans should be happy with this release. It wears well on the open road, windows open, volume cranked. But don’t play it while stuck in traffic, or you’ll get antsy. Despite its slowed tempo, “Kohokia” screams go, go, go. The only real pause is the prelude “Ghost On High,” the opening track of Side B, echoing the reserve of its cousin on Side A. This trait highlights the importance of vinyl when an artist knows they are recording for vinyl. The nuance, along with the planning, evaporates in the digital stream. Bleeding into “Sinaia,” the piece sets the stage for increasing intensity, ignited by a swift escalation in the second minute and compounded by a second flame in the fourth. The final seconds draw the attention back to the drummer, mirroring “Arluck.” After this, it’s all rock to the bitter end.
If you’re looking for raw emotion, search no further. When facing frustrations, there may be no better remedy than to blast Russian Circles, which may not be political but certainly knows how to growl. (Richard Allen)