Review Summary: Ballou production caps off a truly glorious piece of art.
I begin this review by embarking on something of a challenge: I have no intention of referencing a single separated track on Guidance
. For me, it would do a disservice to the cohesion of the record, and frankly the actual beginnings, middles and ends are academic, as every movement drags the listener deep inside and makes one feel and engage rather than just listen.
But what actually makes this album and this band stand out? Well, first off, production. While this record doesn’t insist on painstakingly cutting out every hiss, fuzz or imperfection, Guidance
is lush, smooth and subtle yet dense. It all feels so natural for the three-piece to sound this tight but so sprawling. The end product doesn’t satisfy in how clean it has come out, but in how personal it all sounds, akin to sitting in God City Studios, peering over the mixing desk, absorbing it all but not touching a single dial. While previous entries in their discography had a charm in the lo-fi approach, album number six hints that it could delight the purest of audiophiles, and yet decides not to. Whether this is a conscious decision by the band or not is a mystery, but Guidance
sounds like a perfect live album.
Musically, it is fair to say that whilst Russian Circles haven’t exactly abandoned post-metal, chugging riffs and gritty guitar tones serve as a flourish rather than the base of this record. Guidance
is overwhelmingly warm for the most part, encouraging the listener to step in and allow the waves to sweep them under with reckless abandon for when the waters get their most choppy and abrasive - for those that have concerns: there are zero disappointments on the heaviness front here. Even at the most quiet moments, there is no shortage of atmosphere, whether in blissful serenity or satisfaction in the knowledge that the storm is around the corner. There are tinges of acoustic folk, Godspeed-esque passages of reverb-drenched fuzz, minimalist mid-sections, and everything in between (which just happens to be the most delicious glue).
Moreover, a striking observation made from quite early on is that Russian Circles are under zero obligation to alienate anyone with implausible time signatures or technical insanity. There is much to be appreciated in musical showmanship if it fulfils the brief of the actual song behind it, but more so on Guidance
than on their previous efforts, the trio use their obvious talents into maximising the basics - some could argue (and have) that this inspires a lack of immediacy or allows the record to rest on its laurels, but as far as my own opinion is concerned, this is not the case. Every section is explored to full potential almost free of arrogance or pressure to over-perform and makes the finished article so simple to engage with. The record glides effortlessly between light and dark, mixing twinkling sections of beauty with crushingly bleak walls of noise, and refreshingly never once feels like an awkward juxtaposition.
In essence, Guidance
is everything this reviewer could want in a Russian Circles album. It could be the backing to a Shakespearian melodrama, it could be the best concert you could ever attend, it could be the soundtrack to the laziest of Sundays, but whatever your purpose, please give yourself to this record, be it for one listen or many, many more. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m jumping back in.