Live Reviews - Reviews

Russian Circles w/ Val Normal @ Hangar, Dublin


The Hangar, formerly Andrew’s Lane Theatre, is fast becoming the best place in Dublin for punk and metal gigs. Grimier, in all the right ways, than the Academy and much more spacious than Whelans, it’s a place that bands like Fucked Up and Titus Andronicus should be playing. So it makes sense that U:Mack, a thoroughly great group, would use the Hangar to host the Instrumental noise makers Russian Circles.

The night kicks off with Dublin’s Val Normal, a math rock group. Val are very much a touring band. They’re the kind of group that you’d see on bills throughout the year with an alarming frequency. Their commitment to touring comes through in the music though. The songs are complex and twisty with enough timing and tempo changes to shatter a metronome and the crew never miss a beat. Listening to them successfully make these transitions is terribly impressive in an intellectual, chin-wagging, “I’ve listened to every Dream Theatre record and even I find this impressive” kind of way; with the highlight of the evening being the Biffy-inspired, ‘As They Stood Questioning the Bee’.


Fundamentally though, it’s not overly compelling. There are two big reasons for this. Firstly, the songs aren’t up to scratch. They’re these terribly schizophrenic beasts whose tonal shifts, while impressive, are jerky and prevent the songs from ever finding a consistently interesting bedrock. It’s like listening to a DJ who only wants to hear 30 seconds of any song, the songs they’ll choose might be really good but without the space to breath they’re going to start becoming a drag. Secondly, the bass tone and the vocals are rather poorly mixed on the night, creating less of a Wall of Sound and more overwhelming and muddying the sound, which is a real shame because whatever quality of songwriting might be present is being lost on something so silly.

After Val finish, it takes about forty-five minutes for Russian Circles to take the stage. Seeing as Val Normal’s set was forty minutes, that’s a little ridiculous of a wait. The stage is bathed in smoke and the lights are set to a deep apocalyptic red. Once they’re ready, the group burst into ‘Deficit’, an absolute stonker from their most recent effort, Memorial. It’s the kind of music to become entirely entranced in and there are more than a few faces in the crowd who seem to be experiencing something transcendent. The set continues with other classics like ‘309’ – whose introduction deserved to be played this loud – and ‘Death Rides a Horse’, which closes the set and may well be the single best performance of the night.


Brian Cook and Mike Sullivan’s strings are as brutal as they are trance-inducing, while Dave Turncrantz’s pulverising drums are so massive you can feel every hit in your chest and as well as the vibrations in the walls. Given how excellent performance it is, it’s an absolute travesty that the band kills the momentum ever few songs to tune. This is a standard part of every show, but Russian Circles take upwards of what feels 5 minutes to tune. The songs have done such a good job of building tension and catharsis that to lose all of that mood and atmosphere so flippantly and frequently, it’s rather frustrating. All and all, it is a thoroughly special show mired by unfortunate timings. Will Murphy

Photos by Isabel Thomas

is the co-editor / photo editor. She also contributes photos and illustrations to The Thin Air print magazine.