In a genre as stagnant and over-done as post-rock can be, Russian Circles were touted as a breath of fresh air; a statement that seems to be made as easy as water from a tap. With “Enter”, Russian Circles were, almost like every horde of post-rock band to emerge, hailed across the land as ‘breathtaking’ and other hyperbolic titles and quickly became the darlings of the post-rock/post-metal scene. It seemed, however, Russian Circles failed to capitalize on the exciting framework laid out, leaving the mounds of rage festering beneath them on the forefront while the more emotive passages lacked the power they might otherwise have possessed. Rather than a balancing act, Russian Circles achieved a sound that leaned more towards the ‘rock’ in post-rock.
With their latest effort, Station, Russian Circles heaves another shot at making a dent with their music, and the results are strong; creating a vast crater rather than a dent. Boasting the same abrasive qualities as Pelican, Russian Circles have carved a niche of their own on Station. However, the comparisons to Pelican and Isis have been tiresome at best – and quite inaccurate at their worst – as Russian Circles allow the reflective passages dominate their sound. The slow and ambient drone of “Campaign” gently flows into a streaming passage of ethereal guitar that is a lot prettier than any of the band’s earlier work. With this we see that Station is an album of varying extremes. At various points, Russian Circles barge out of the gate with such tribal ferocity that it’s hard to believe that they can be deemed as simply ‘post-rock’. This is where Station capitalizes, its lack of definite sound and character leaves some of the music leaning heavily in the territory of metal and some floating aimlessly into the territory of post-rock/ambient and this ambiguity is strangely fresh. Surprisingly, these two directions lead us to the same road and the effect is incredibly satisfying. Sweeping melodies delicately permeate themselves under the more raucous and intense passages and the effect is dazzling.
Masterfully, Russian Circles, even in the more volatile and dense moments, sneak a bit of dazzling beauty that encompasses the channeled moments of the album; this effect is incredibly subtle. “Harper Lewis” is a case in point to this notion; even the dense moments emanate a sense of triumph in the midst of the fist pumping rhythms. The cut begins to build on its fairly simple melodic fragment quite quickly and slowly builds into a cathartic explosion. This attests to the band’s progression and improvement as not only song-writers but also musicians. Shades of technical prowess can be seen on every track, shaded oh so delicately that with repeated listens, the subtleties blossom into a rewarding experience. The staccato riff of the title track demonstrates Russian Circle’s ability to incorporate heavier moments without the over-the-top machismo of most metal. The obvious highlight of Station is the curiously innocent “Versus”, which explores the band’s more introspective tones. The ethereal passages are a great counterpoint to the dense sound of the prior track, “Youngblood”, and the sheer beauty of “Versus” is enough to make up for the obvious rip on Explosions in the Sky. “Xavii” is an honest and innocently simple track that closes the album with an air of calm.
The drama of the contemplative tracks on Station is the sole aspect that makes Station more than worthwhile. The arrangement and placement of the dynamic shifts makes these cuts sound like songs, complete with bridges, intros and outros. This achievement is marred down by the urgency of the more rough pieces, which seems to long for vocals to float above the music. Each track somehow becomes a sprawling journey, despite the channeled aggression that is apparent throughout; aggression the band thankfully allows festering as opposed to spilling all over. It’s almost as if the music exhales to allow a breath of fresh air to sneak into its nostrils, the calm after the storm.
The unfortunate fact of Station is that its distinctive quality is equally its detracting quality. The two disparate directions the band creates, while delicately coalesced, gives the record a lack of character and leaves it to be more of an amorphous blob rather than the powerful statue it could have been. Even with this, Station is a worthy effort that builds upon the sound developed on Enter and surpasses it. And for that, it’s definitely a strong effort that foreshadows at Russian Circles’ musical ability, showing us that this group of Russians is not running in circles.