“Guidance features a more bad-ass Russian Circles, a group that seems less elegiac, and more ready to plant their feet solidly on the ground, fighting back bloodied and bruised against each body blow.” – Pitchfork
"...the album – the group's sixth – is moody, dense and dynamic, the gripping soundtrack to an un-filmed drama." – Rolling Stone
With their sixth album Guidance, Russian Circles carry on in their quest to conjure multi-dimensional dramatic instrumental narratives and to scout out new textures from their respective instruments. Songs aren’t constructed out of highbrow concepts; they’re forged out of gut instinct and base emotional response. Nor was the band—as is often the case with artists later in their career—interested in testing their fans’ patience or securing a new broader audience with a radical reinvention. Instead, Russian Circles use Guidance to continue examining the polarity of quiet and loud, complexity and simplicity, ugliness and beauty.
Every Russian Circles album has had its share of new sonic vistas, and Guidance finds the band still searching out new sounds while continuing to play to the collective strengths of guitarist Mike Sullivan, drummer Dave Turncrantz, and bassist Brian Cook. Starting with the meditative restraint of album opener “Asa”, Guidance sets off on a path of metallic savagery (“Vorel”, “Calla”), arpeggio tectonics (“Mota”), mercurial anthems (“Afrika”), somber segues (“Overboard”), and seismic Americana noir (“Lisboa”).
With the help of engineer/co-producer Kurt Ballou and his God City Studio, Russian Circles were able to capture this broad tonal palette and wide array of emotional motifs into a cohesive journey through the tumultuous corners of human existence. We often expect artists to fall into patterns and formulas, but for Russian Circles the creative method is still a mystery.
Songs develop at their own pace. Inspiration comes from strange sources. If anything, the process of writing is every bit the enigma it was back when the band crafted their first song in 2004. Life itself is a struggle with the unknown and a search for meaning, and the creative process for Russian Circles has mirrored that pursuit.
The radical dynamic shifts and straightforward production of Enter, the lockstep metallic attack and pensive comedowns of Station, the symphonic grandeur of Geneva, the grit and grime of Empros, and the oscillation between melancholy and wrath on Memorial were all incremental steps towards an ideal, and Guidance brings the band that much closer to that realization. In the interim between albums, a veteran handed off an envelope of war photos to the spouse of a band member.
The photos depicted a man being led to his execution. There was no context for the traumatic scenes, no history, no background. Yet the dignity this anonymous figure exuded in his fatalistic march resonated with the band. Here was someone that knew his fate and marched boldly towards his destiny.
The band used these photos for the Guidance album art, knowing that we all march towards our own conclusions, and we can only hope that we face our futures with the same honor and nobility. If the band’s fourth album Empros (Greek translation: Onward) was a statement of perseverance, Guidance became a statement of striding into the future undeterred by what lies ahead.
Available on limited light Blue Double Vinyl and CD.
“Her darkest, heaviest and most personal album yet . . . a haunting, doomy exercise in loud-quiet dynamics.” Rolling Stone
Sleep paralysis plagues singer/songwriter Chelsea Wolfe, and that strange intersection of the conscious and the unconscious has inadvertently manifested itself within her work.
Across the span of her first four albums, there is an underlying tension, a distorted and nebulous territory where dark shadows hover along the edges of the sublime and the graceful.
But until now, Wolfe’s trials and tribulations with the boundaries between dreams and reality have only been a subconscious influence on her work. With her fifth album, Abyss, she deliberately confronts those boundaries and crafts a score to that realm she describes as the “hazy afterlife… an inverted thunderstorm… the dark backward… the abyss of time.”
Chelsea Wolfe’s material has always felt intensely private, from the almost voyeuristic bedroom-production aesthetic of her debut album The Grime and the Glow to the stark themes and atmospheres of 2013’s Pain Is Beauty. “Abyss is meant to have the feeling of when you’re dreaming, and you briefly wake up, but then fall back asleep into the same dream, diving quickly into your own subconscious,” says Wolfe.
To conjure this in-between world, Wolfe continued her ongoing collaboration with multi-instrumentalist and co-writer Ben Chisholm and drummer Dylan Fujioka, with Ezra Buchla brought on board to play viola and Mike Sullivan (Russian Circles) enlisted to contribute guitar. The ensemble traveled to Dallas, TX to record with producer John Congleton (Swans, St. Vincent).
In the back of her mind burned the words of designer Yohji Yamamoto: "Perfection is ugly. Somewhere in the things humans make, I want to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion.” The resulting eleven songs reflect that philosophy as they smoulder with human frailty, intimacy, quiet passion, anxiety, and deep longing. “Sleep and dream issues have followed me my whole life,” remarks Wolfe as she revisits notes from the writing and recording sessions. In a way, these issues have become a part of Chelsea Wolfe’s identity, for whom the notion of sleep as an escape has been subverted.
Abyss captures this dichotomy, this battle between the soothing and the upsetting, and demonstrates why Chelsea Wolfe has become one of the most intriguing songwriters of the decade.
1. Carrion Flowers
2. Iron Moon
3. Dragged Out
5. Grey Days
6. After the Fall
7. Crazy Love
8. Simple Death
10. Color of Blood
11. The Abyss
Perhaps the most immediately apparent characteristic of the fifth Russian Circles album, Memorial is its wide range of emotion.
Vacillating from somber-yet-soaring melodies on one track to pummeling metal heft on the next.
Memorial sounds like an album with split personalities. "We've always tried to balance our metal-influenced sounds with more nuanced, pretty, orchestral elements," Cook says. "But this time, it's far more polarized in that the heavy parts are much more blown out and exaggerated while the pretty moments are far more restrained, delicate, and atmospheric." In the two years since Russian Circles released their landmark fourth album Empros, the Chicago trio toured worldwide nearly incessantly, encountering many heavy acts whose music seemed needlessly complicated.
"We set out to make a straightforward, intense, heavy record," Cook explains. "We subconsciously gravitated toward darker and more somber sounds. We wanted to get away from the overtly flashy." In search of such a streamlined sound, the trio focused on each individual song having its own emotional and musical characteristics. As such, Memorial almost feels like stages of grief. That notion might be aided by 1) the album's clever structuring, in which it ends in the same place as it starts, and 2) special guest vocalist Chelsea Wolfe lending her hauntingly somber vocals to the album closing title track.
To a degree, the monolithic, juxtaposed moods on Memorial is the band's reaction to the proliferation of iPod culture affecting how bands write music. Today, most musicians are trying to mash together disparate elements with results sounding as unpalatable as cooking a meal
"I want to hear a band with a broad palette," Cook says. "But it should find that weird balance with breadth and width. We wanted to make a record with more extreme peaks and valleys. I'm hoping that we can get away with making a schizophrenic record."
3. 17774. Cheyenne
CD Packaging: Digipak. Vinyl Packaging: Gatefold Jacket + download card. Chicago post-metal trio Russian Circles return with not only their fourth and heaviest album to date – but also, with Empros they're poised to take the crown as innovators reinvigorating the staid trappings of genre.
Empros picks up where the anthemic riffs and melodies of 2009's Geneva left off and injects evermore slithering rhythms amid skull-crushing heft with all the visceral intensity of Godflesh, Swans and Neurosis. Put simply, Empros is Russian Circles' Master of Reality: a radical revision of both heavy and melody that is monolithic in its clarity and perfection.
Or, like a lone surviving wooly beast emerging from a brutal winter's frost, Empros is the sound of a band shaking the ages from its shoulders with all the brutal force of a behemoth awakened. Russian Circles -- guitarist Mike Sullivan, drummer Dave Turncrantz and bassist Brian Cook – recorded Empros at Phantom Manor in Chicago with Brandon Curtis of The Secret Machines & Interpol, who also produced the band's previous album Geneva.
Empros marks the band's first full-length to be released worldwide exclusively via Sargent House -- the band's longtime management company and record label that had previously released only the vinyl editions of its three previous albums.
6. Praise Be Man
Double Gatefold 2 LP 45RPM 180 Gram Vinyl.
The relationship between the calm before the storm and the storm itself is a crucial element of post-rock. The patience and restraint to allow the music to build slowly and organically is an incredible virtue within the genre, and it's a virtue that Russian Circles have been growing into over the course of their career.
On Geneva, their third full-length outing, we find a band that has matured as songwriters. With a larger, more atmospheric set of tools at their disposal, the band crafts songs that are more about buildup than release. Instead of down the usual "build, build, build, destroy" route that's so common, the songs grow organically, with changes unfolding so naturally that the big finish is more of a logical conclusion than an explosion.
Brian Cook's (of Botch and These Arms Are Snakes) impact on this record is more apparent than it was on Station. His gritty, fuzzed-out bass provides a dynamic contrast to the lighter moments, providing a bit of sonic dirt for the more ethereal guitar parts to play in.
This influence might also have something to do with Russian Circles' further tempering of their metal tendencies. While Geneva has its heavier moments (like "Fathom" and "Geneva"), they're not as out-and-out metal as their past work, more reminiscent of Pelican's later work or the sludgy harmony of Zozobra. If you weren't already on the Russian Circles bandwagon, this is the perfect opportunity to jump on.
4. Hexed All
6. When the Mountain Comes to Muhammad
Northern California native Chelsea Wolfe's sound is best described with broad strokes: elemental, intense, radiant, ancient yet modern, intimate yet expansive, dark and sparkling.
Hues of black metal and deep blues inform her ever-evolving electric folk — a warm force that wraps itself around the listener, encouraging uplift, seeking triumph. Her voice similarly haunts and soothes, with words that illuminate life's darker corners in order to reveal the unlikely truth and beauty hidden within.
In a way, Wolfe is on a journey to the surface of her own music. 2012 finds releasing her first acoustic emanation on Sargent House, titled Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs.The experience is a secret shared, a side of our heroine rarely seen or heard, and the making was as intimate as it gets: recorded in the woods of Northern California and at Wolfe's L.A. home, co-produced by her bandmate Ben Chisholm, with players Ezra Buchla of Gowns (viola), Andrea Calderón of Corima (violin) and Daniel Denton of Gothic Tropic (bass).
2. The Way We Used To
3. Spinning Centers
5. I Died With You
7. Our Work Was Good
8. Hyper Oz
CD Digipak with 20 page booklet. Vinyl is 2LP in Gatefold jacket + download card.
Pain is Beauty is the third studio album from the Los Angeles-based artist and is a self-described love letter to nature. Many of the album's 12 tracks veer in a decidedly more electronic direction than previous recordings, while at the same time capitalizing on Wolfe's trademark penchant for the morose and otherworldly.
As Wolfe explains: "[The album] becomes an exploration of ancestry, how the mythology, landscapes and traditions of our ancestors affect our personalities today. Honesty is what initially drew me to music, and I've been more honest and open with myself than ever through these songs.
There is peace in truth. There is clarity in solitude. And there is power within simplicity and focus. Love is not always easy. Tormented love is something I understand more than society's skewed idea of what love should be. Love is indelible, severe, earnest, merciful. To push forward against the odds is to make history".
Chelsea Wolfe makes records that transcend time, avoid pigeonholing, and most importantly, allow a glimpse into the soul of a true visionary. Her work is free of the contrivances of lesser artists, the trivial "concepts" and pandering for attention at any cost. Hers is a dignified way of doing things, proven without any doubt by the sheer quality of her work.
Pain is Beauty presents not so much an auditory experience as it does an encompassing atmosphere with which the listener can surround themselves, a soul-stirring link with infinity.
1. Feral Love
2. We Hit A Wall
3. House Of Metal
4. The Warden
5. Destruction Makes The World Burn Brighter
9. Ancestors, The Ancients
10. They Clap When You're Done
11. The Waves Have Come