I’m not sure I can sufficiently express how stoked I was for this show, but I’m going to try anyway. I was so excited that I ditched out early from a wedding, where I was surrounded mostly by gorgeous women, to come to a showroom filled mostly with hairy men, just to see Russian Circles do their thing. Being a fan of their records but having never seen them live, I had so many questions; how well would they capture their masterfully recorded crescendos and decrescendos? Are they really tight enough of a band to nail all of those loops? How do they sound so crunchy?
Trying to describe Russian Circles to someone who’s never heard them can be tricky. Sure, on the surface it’s metal, very heavy and very dark, but there’s so much more to it. For starters, you won’t find any of the traditional metal gimmickery here; there are no solos to speak of, even though they are entirely instrumental. Instead, Russian circles colour their relatively simplistic melodies with a variety of loops, samples and effects. The result is decidedly post-rock in nature, but with far more grit than many of their peers manage to muster.
They couldn’t have picked a better venue in which to showcase their music. Le Cabaret du Mile End is extremely chic and could just as well hold a dance party as a metal show. The soft blue lighting above the stage mixed with the absence of any house soundtrack (Russian Circles instead provided a steady hum of guitar buzz for the twenty minutes leading up to their entry to the stage) only helped to up the anticipation.
From the opening pummel of ‘Deficit’ from the latest full-length, Memorial, the band showed the crowd that this was neither a party nor a lighthearted gathering of friends; this was purely a listening experience. The lights flared on and then shut off almost instantaneously save for one small spotlight behind drummer Dave Turncrantz, and they stayed off for the majority of the performance.
What followed was a set of songs that spanned the band’s impressive five album career. What made this work so well in a live setting was the constant pulse of their music that very rarely lets up; they almost never venture out of common time, opting instead to have Turncrantz color the space provided by guitarist Mike Sullivan and bassist Brian Cook with some dizzying snare and cymbal work.
So, were my questions answered? For the most part, yes. All crescendos and decrescendos were handled with precision and care, leading me to believe that there may not have been any volume editing or studio magic whatsoever involved in the recording process. For the most part they managed to stay to the meter of the loops, although there were moments when it seemed Turnkrantz was forced to forgo his own timekeeping to allow Cook and Sullivan to remain on count. The crunch comes from Cook; his bass was so overdriven that every time he struck a chord, the strings almost sounded like they were melting into eachother.
Annoyingly, I was provided with a new question: How does Turncrantz get his snare drum to echo like that? Oh well, I guess a good magician never reveals his secrets.
Unfortunately, due to a lack of knowledge of how to get to the place (I know, it’s 2014 and I’m armed with a fully functional Android phone… Don’t judge me, okay?), I missed out completely on opener The Atlas Moth’s. However, I have heard their particularly groovy brand of post-metal and I recommend it to any fan of the genre.