Chicago’s Russian Circles is back, and as strong as ever. Their newest album may replace loud-quiet-loud with loud-louder-loud, but that’s okay, because post-rock fans need this sort of outlet on the tail end (we hope) of a draining era. Gnosis means spiritual knowledge, and while one might not consider hard music a source of such knowledge, reflection often follows the spent energy of emotion. Here the trio sounds mad, yet melodic, a curious combination of forces mirroring the inner struggle of the soul.
Opener “Tupilak” is inspired by the Greenlandic legend of the tupilaq, an avenging monster woven from pieces of other animals. The people are angry, seeking vengeance for all they have endured, though the proper target is sometimes obscured. Russian Circles understands this feeling, and reflects it with fury. First single “Conduit” gets the heads to nod and bang, the music again a reflection of the title, leading to the overused, yet appropriate word catharsis. In comparison, the title track seems almost wistful, a brief acknowledgment of pain before a necessary turning away. When the drum rolls turn into crashes in “Vlasimil,” the sense of being wronged returns. The guitars don’t even try to be gentle.
The brief “Ó Braonáin” is the calm before the storm, likely referencing an old Irish poem referring to “showers of sorrow … the sting of regret … a loss of courage” caused by the death of a loved one. When “Betrayal” charges out of the gate, one can imagine the target for one’s anger finally being identified, the full force of blame unleashed. Russian Circles does not pull their punches. But they do leave room for muted hope, as found in “Bloom,” though what may be blooming is unnamed. While new wars have begun and new fears emerged, the world is edging toward the aftermath phase of the last crisis, hoping the fragile flowers do not wither on the vine. (Richard Allen)