Russian Circles’ Enter was practically a life-changing album for me. Never had I heard a heavy instrumental band with such a fluid, narrative style before. There was also a dash of technical prowess (but not too much) and the whole thing was wrapped up with a certain flair only Russian Circles could provide. The Upper Ninety/Re-Enter 7” got me even more excited because it seemed to be hinting at a return to the more math-rock-oriented sounds of Dakota/Dakota (which contained two members of Russian Circles), but within the same dynamic framework as Enter. So once I heard there was a new full-length coming out this year, I could hardly wait. What I really expected was another magnum opus that straddled both the world of Enter and the world of Dakota/Dakota. But Station is not at all what I was expecting.
I don’t want to say I was let down because that would be a great disservice to a band that certainly puts a lot of effort into its music. However, in my mind, this album is missing a certain something that Enter had: subtle dynamics and free-flowing yet cohesive buildups. However, there is still a lot of brilliant musicianship on the new album. There are moments of fragile beauty and moments of colossal heaviness, but what disappoints me is that they don’t really coexist in the same songs anymore. The songs seem to just jump from one riff to another to another while keeping a fairly constant mood, only changing things up on a track-to-track basis. What I loved so much about Enter was that each song was its own little story, bouncing between moods of anxiety, hope, melancholy, and triumph, all the while remaining coherent, un-repetitive, and working toward some sort of off-the-wall, epic climax and setting the stage perfectly for the next song.
“Campaign,” the opening track of Station, fades in with a somewhat ambient intro, which leads to one of those signature finger-tapping Russian Circles riffs. As the song progresses, haunting melodies are piled on top, creating a great mood. But what bugs me is that after five minutes or so, the song doesn’t really go anywhere like most Russian Circles songs; it kind of just meanders off and disintegrates. The band’s rhythm section gets things started on “Harper Lewis” in typical fashion, and then segues into a cool atmospheric guitar part juxtaposed over a distorted bass part. Unfortunately, this is put to an end by a somewhat generic chugging riff. But the song is saved by the dark atmosphere that comprises its second half. At this point, I didn’t have much hope that the third track, “Station,” would really be anything I hadn’t heard before. The intro sounded intriguing, but I was caught off-guard by the epic-galloping riff that enters about a minute and fifteen seconds into the song. The song builds some momentum from there, but becomes predictable at about the four-minute mark.
“Versus” gets off to a slow start, but once again I was taken off-guard about three minutes, fifty seconds into the song by one of the most gorgeous riffs I’ve heard in a while. This is one of those songs that just sends waves of warmth and nostalgia over me. “Youngblood” is probably my favorite song on the album because it reminds me of the heavier moments on Enter. The first half of the song has a galloping metal feel to it and it’s sure to get your head nodding. The second half of the song is what really what grabbed my attention, with unrelenting driving riffs played over classic Russian Circles noodling. “Xavii” ends the album on much the same note that “Campaign” started it, in a hauntingly beautiful fashion that sends shivers up my spine.
Station is a bit streamlined compared to the band’s earlier work, but I can’t write it off as a letdown because it still blows most instrumental albums out of the water. Even still, for a band as competent as Russian Circles, this is kind of a step back in terms of intricacy when they could have easily taken a step forward. If you are new to Russian Circles, I would invariably recommend Enter and the Upper Ninety/Re-Enter 7” as starting points. But this album is still a Russian Circles album through and through, and it still revisits those same atmospheres, just in a different format. Station also has going for it another quality production job where every instrument has plenty of breathing room and badass cover art- a photo of some soldiers circa 1940-1950 that I think captures perfectly the melancholy/nostalgic mood of the album, as if you’re leaving everyone and everything you know behind and don’t know when you’ll be back.
8.7 / 10
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