Russian Circles fights the Cold War

‘No happy endings’ for this Chicago post-metal act

Set against the backdrop of Chicago’s bustling skyline Russian Circles is an illimitable instrumental hard-rock act with a compellingly dangerous Cold War esthetic. Comprised of a powerful triumvirate of post-metal and post-punk players guitarist Mike Sullivan (Dakota/Dakota) bass player Brian Cookbrings (These Arms are Snakes Botch) and drummer Dave Turncrantz have distinguished themselves as a band that even the most jaded musicians will listen to. Fractalling psychedelic alt-metal since 2004 Russian Circles evolved in a lyrical vacuum and with no warbling idol in tight pants taking centre stage. The band’s focus not to mention the scrutiny of their audience is firmly fixed upon technical prowess consummate musicianship and virtuosic guitar exploits.

“It’s not about being on display. We don’t feel a lot of pressure when we perform; we’re more about starting the mood and sharing a communal experience with our audience” says founding guitarist Mike Sullivan. “I think most people are damn thankful that there’s no douchebag parading around in front of us onstage. We make a conscious effort to be very aware of the nuances of what we’re playing at the time rather than worrying about looking cool doing it.”

Showcasing its talent along the hard-rock dreamscape alongside titans such as Tool Coheed and Cambria and Boris the intrepid three-piece has drawn comparisons to Dead Meadow Kyuss Surface of Eceyon and the recently defunct Isis. More organic than automated the group’s expansive sound embraces a bevy of hardcore genres whilst simultaneously laying the groundwork for the next enclave of heavily inclined post-everything offshoots.

“I definitely savour and feel most comfortable in those darker minor keys but the overall mix is what’s most important” Sullivan says. “Those dark tones can become overwhelming so we’re always reaching for the perfect juxtaposition to bring balance to the music. We don’t want to walk down the same street each time.”

“Our arrangements flow out beyond the typical songwriting format and we don’t worry about returning. For the most part we never worry about song length as long as there are enough pauses for beer-drinking. Not all of our resolutions are happy endings — sometimes it’s a mean joke sometimes we crush the song at the end sometimes we end on a good note but often we’re more unforgiving. ”

Building on the cliffhanger-calibre intensity of previous efforts Enter (2006) and Station (2008) Russian Circles put forth the noble Geneva on Seattle’s Suicide Squeeze Records last November. Produced by comrade-in-arms Brandon Curtis (Secret Machines) who also volunteered his debatable skills as a trombonist trumpet player and pianist the towering seven-track opus was realized at Electrical Audio in the band’s hometown of Chicago. Concise bowed instruments and drunken horns were added in-studio with the aim of contributing further depth and breadth to a sound that’s already the definition of sprawling.

“I always wanted to do something with strings but we’ve never had enough time. It was really about satisfying my own curiosity” confesses guitarist Mike Sullivan. “Brandon acted as a liaison to all of our accomplishments in the studio and helped us work out the roles for a supporting cast of cello and violin. It worked out pretty amazing considering that the horn parts are like drunken walk-ons by a guy out of the crowd.”

Decidedly egalitarian in its approach to constructing harmonic inroads Russian Circles elevate the concordance of parallel narratives to an impressive art form. Baiting its audience with hypnotic flights of fantasy the trio excels at morphing slow crescendos into cold-sweat-inducing climaxes. Not surprising considering its devotion to cohesive action on a united front.

“We had to come up with a name on short notice and went the nostalgic route by picking Russian Circles after a hockey drill that we all used to run as kids” Sullivan recalls. “I think the idea of relentlessly skating in circles suits the mechanical aspects of our sound. Of course you also have the human element without which you would lose any sense of emotional connection to the songs.”