Review Summary: Forsaking subtlety in favor of immediacy, Empros is the album that fully realizes Russian Circles' potential.Empros
is the sound of a band thoroughly examining their sound and weeding out any and all flaws they may find in the process. However good their previous three records were, all were plagued by an oft-present lack of purpose. Yes, post-rock and those bands and genres associated with it is not a scene known for making quick, decisive, and to-the-point music. Constantly choosing to brood rather than burst, meander instead of progressing, or build in place of exploding, this is not always a bad thing when taken in context of the music, but the fact that thousands of bands follow the exact same formula makes real originality (something almost always essential to truly great music) hard to find. Russian Circles
, a three-piece hailing from Chicago, have always been a band a few steps ahead of associated acts, but even at their strongest (2009's Geneva
comes to mind) they have shown an unwillingness to completely pull away from genre conventions. Meandering is not always a weakness, but when a band shows as much potential as Russian Circles
, one wonders why such a talented act feels the need to place songs like Philos
in the midst of those like Malko
Here, they seem to have recognized that this fundamental issue is the only thing holding their music back from true greatness, and they have taken every step to eliminate it. Their previous records took time to really get going, but on Empros Russian Circles
cut straight to the chase and don't let up for almost the album's entire 41-minute runtime. Of course, there are brief respites like the quiet build that endures for the first half of Schiphol
, but even here, its tranquil post-rock ambiance is shattered by soaring riffs and crunching bass in a way so abrupt that it may startle the listener. Also, album closer Praise Be Man
is a 4.5 minute (the shortest on the album) odyssey of peaceful progressions, relaxing atmosphere, and calm singing, earning the title of the first non-instrumental Russian Circles
song. However, the track is neither meandering nor boring, serving as a perfect outro to the most intense album of the band's career.
In their downgrading of buildups and tranquility, Russian Circles
have chosen to drastically expand upon the more metallic influences that were hinted at on Geneva
(these touches often caused them to be possibly mislabeled as a post-metal band). This is progression and growth at their finest. The crunchy, massive bass tone that made an appearance during specific moments in a few songs on previous albums now is present on all but the aforementioned Praise Be Man
, elevating bassist Brian Cook to a stature held by few bassists in similar acts (Intronaut
's Joe Lester is one whose role is comparable). Working in perfect unison with Mike Sullivan's intense axe-work, laying down line after line of glorious tone and driving rhythm (Atackia
has some especially tasty riffs), his work on Empros
cements his place as possibly the band's most utterly integral member.
The other two instrumentalists are also at their prime throughout the entire album. Sullivan's riffing is, like everything else on Empros]
, more immediate than it has ever been, opting for a heavier and crunchier tone that is the perfect complement to Cook's dense lines and Turncrantz's frantic percussion. Opener 309
has some of his best riffs to date, often overlaid with shimmering leads and undercut by thundering bass (did I mention that Cook's bass-work is amazing?). Sullivan also shows that he is no stranger to variation: Mládek
is filled to the brim with beautiful leads reminiscent of The Edge before his band became inconsequential, while Batu
-esque chugging shows him at his most metal. Additionally, Dave Turncrantz continues to prove himself as the genre's most underrated drummer, throwing down a performance whose equal is non-existent among heavy instrumental post-rock (imagine how much Pelican
would improve just by adding interesting drumming). Returning to the excellence that 309
is, he lays down the god damned law on this outstanding song, coalescing with the guitar and drums to form what may be the band's best song to date.
is the album that so many bands wish they could make. Simultaneously, it leaps away from genre conventions and builds on the band's previous work, all the while keeping the band's unique identity completely intact. Russian Circles
perpetuate every driving riff, frenetic beat, and crunching bass-line with an unmatched sense of atmosphere, and instill a sense of purpose and urgency into even the album's most solemn moments. A typical post-rock band will make music that builds, an average metal band will make music that erupts, and a generic instrumental band will make music that meanders: Russian Circles
make music that flows
. They eschew building for brooding, erupting for leveling, and meandering for progression, melding the abilities of three considerably talented musicians into music that manages to journey effortlessly to its goal, all the while displaying the prowess of each individual member. Empros
is everything good about the genre condensed into 41 minutes that fly by at remarkable speeds. It's now almost useless to compare Russian Circles
to similar acts, because with this album, they have reduced the number of their peers who can pull off this formula to similar success to one that can be counted on a single hand.