12 Aug 2022 - Simon
Post-Metal | Sargeant House | Release date: 19 Aug 2022
Russian Circles return with their eigth album Gnosis which was written remotely due to the pandemic (unlike previous albums where they were all in the same place), which if anything has galvanised the band to even greater heights
Russian Circles are a band which needs no introduction, the threepiece, originally based in Chicago and now spread across the US, has built a reputation over multiple albums of a band in complete control of their sound, for each member is righteously considered a master of his own craft (I must confess that Dave Turncrantz is one of my all-time favourite drummers).
If you didn’t know already, Gnosis means Spiritual Knowledge. According to bassist Brian Cook (you should definitely check out the interview with Brian on this very website for an insight into this album), the band originally set out to make a more reflective, contemplative album than the last one Blood Year. Well, I’m not sure what happened during recording but it sure as hell didn’t turn out that way. This album is ANGRY! The whole thing absolutely throws you through the ringer and makes no excuses for it, but then again, doesn’t spiritual knowledge come after a period of upheaval and trauma?
First up we have Tupilak with its driving bouncy bass and drums which propel the song into almost swing territory, it’s joyous and when the bottom abruptly falls out of the song, it feels almost sad that the wonderful rhythms which preceeded it are no longer heard. The band plays with us here and skillfully builds it up again to those illustrious heights with almost scalpel-like precision. It might make this song sound light and airy like candy floss, but it doesn’t, there is an unmistakable air of menace which pervades even this most seemingly innocuous of songs.
Next song Conduit is an entirely different beast: it’s a snarling pissed-off angry thing, spitting double bass beats and staccato guitars playing intertwined with some utterly glorious, almost thrashy riffage. You can almost feel the sense of annoyance from the side of the musicians, raging at the world during this song; it’s great to hear them let themselves go.
Following song and title track Gnosis is a far more dynamic affair which starts off with eerie ambient swirls, like the opening scene from a horror movie, with the mist slowly clearing to reveal the hidden castle. Gnosis has a breakdown near the end and if it doesn’t get your head nodding, we just can’t be friends; I can almost see the sea of heads nodding along when they play this live, it will be spectacular.
Vlastimal is another rager, blast beats and chugging riffs coalesce into one of the heaviest songs the band have ever done, its relentless. The real jewel in this album’s crown though comes with the stunning final three-song-triptych of Ó Braonáin, Betrayal and Bloom in which the band showcases everything they have learnt in their career to date in a twisting labyrinthine aural collection as good as anything they have ever released. Starting with the short and oh so sweet Ó Braonáin which leads seamlessly into the chaotic Betrayal which, if there is any justice in this world, will become a staple of their legendary live sets, as this song was made to whip up any listener into a head snapping frenzy of sonic delirium. The bass, twisting and exploding along with those unmistakable drum sounds, is a thing of wonder, then the guitar which proudly sits atop the throne surveying everything around it with a sly smile of pre-eminence. All of which leads us to final song Bloom which is like the feeling of wrapping your hands around a cup of hot chocolate after trudging through the rain and wind to get home. It’s the equivalent of a sonic hug and it’s made all the more beautiful after the almost sadistic levels of pummelling from the six songs which proceeded it.
Russian Circles have made their name as an unparalleled band of majestic dynamics over their history, this album strays from this path in as much as it’s a way more linear journey then what has come before. The straight-up nature of this album still very much has plenty of hidden lushness buried within its running time, but this only becomes apparent when you dig deeper into it, revealing themselves over time like panning for gold and seeing the unmistakable sparkle of a nugget amongst the brackish water. Honestly, if you like heavy music of any kind, you really should get this album, it’s nothing short of an adrenaline burst of musical energy which makes you feel alive.