In many ways, post-rock is an easy genre. Get a guitar, bass, and drums, load them with enough pedals to make Kevin Shields gasp and repeat a single musical phrase for the guts of seventy minutes and, voilà, you’re the next Explosions In The Sky, This Will Destroy or The Album Leaf. Freebasers will line up far and wide to catch a glimpse of what you’re doing, tv shows will contact you to write the score for their uplifting emotional scene and you’ll write variants of an identical theme for about decade, replacing members faster than an 80’s hair metal band. In this regard, you have to hand it Russian Circles, because after 6 albums and a decade in the game they’ve yet to phone it in. Moreover, they seem to have actively tried to push themselves and their audience into new terrain with each LP. Where so many of their contemporaries devote hours of material to the same format of quiet tremolo guitar to building a wall of sound and fury generic climax, Circles want to keep you on your toes. Their latest album, Guidance, doesn’t reinvent the wheel or fundamentally alter the concept of the group but it does throw enough curveballs and rock solid riffs to keep you engaged and sufficiently satiated.
Guidance‘s centerpiece is a four song segue which encompasses the first half of the disc and is made up of four individual parts: ‘Axa’, ‘Vorel’, ‘Mota’ and ‘Afrika’. As a single piece, they form a truly monumental slab of instrumental glory, effortlessly oscillating between the poised and peaceful and the apocalyptically intense. ‘Axa’, which opens the album, is this delicate guitar lead piece, a soft and innocent ditty which lulls the listener into this sense of calm. It welcomes you to the album with a elegant and graceful touch. But this peace is short lived as Brian Cook’s foreboding bass subtly creeps into the mix, ratcheting up the tension. It’s a striking opening that shines an unexpected light on the album as we now know what general direction we’ll be heading in, but the exact route is unclear and incredibly exciting. ‘Vorel’ smashes into action with Dave Turncrantz’s pulverizing drums acting as the full beastly manifestation of Cook’s previously insidious dread. It’s a great composition that fits comfortably within the band’s oeuvre while allowing each of the members to flex their impressive chops. As we slide into ‘Mota’, Mike Sullivan’s harmonics come to the forefront that same sense of serenity and calm from ‘Axa’ is returning. But there is a lingering anxiety running throughout which gives way to a behemoth conclusion. Unfortunately, this suite is let down by the first half of ‘Afrika’, which is essentially an EitS song. This disappointment is short lived however as the group use Cook’s chainsaw like bass to breath a dark life back into the monster and carry us to a satisfying climax, marrying the earlier half’s EitS inclinations with RC’s sense of darkness. The whole composition is exhilarating, rewarding and, in a rare feat, manages to have all its segments work both in isolation and as a whole.
The album rounds itself out with 3 quite good cuts: ‘Overboard’, ‘Caila’ and ‘Lisboa’. Each of them has their own merits, such as ‘Overboard’s’ quite beautiful and tranquil central riff or ‘Caila’s’ post-hardcore heaviness that feels like a welcome throwback. Sadly though, none of them make that lasting of an impression and, while they don’t feel like filler, they do feel as though they were more afterthoughts of the album’s centrepiece. This feeling does hurt the album overall. It never pushes it into any region approaching poor, but it does mean that the proceedings finish on a more underwhelming bang than a cataclysmic roar. Will Murphy