Noisy yet orchestrated, powerful yet somber. If asked to describe Russian Circles, these would be the first words out of my mouth. Russian Circles is one of those bands everybody should know, if just for how well they compose their music. They always find a way to bridge the gap between highly distorted metal and smooth, soft emotional pieces. They demonstrate what post-rock really is and leave you yearning for more. The band released their first album in 2006, and several years later, is releasing their fifth full length, Memorial. This time, they were aiming for a more streamlined sound, but whether that pays off or not is questionable.
Memorial is like a hot bath, at first it’s a little too much, but as you ease your way in, things just get better and better. Within the first few opening tracks, I wasn’t really convinced. “Deficit,” is too painfully ominous and slow sounding. Dark, noisy, and powerful metal is cool and all, but it was maybe too much too soon. The third track, “1777,” is also questionable. Admittedly, by this point you’re already settled into Russian Circles incredibly atmospheric music, but it still just feels super intense. More importantly, the two songs have one thing in common –length. Both, “Deficit” and “1777” are longer than five minutes (and then some), and it actually really takes away. It isn’t the same old ternary form of repeated melodies, but it’s still lacking. The level of dynamics and variation is limited. Neither of the songs are even bad, they just seem horribly out of place. From here on, Memorial improves slowly but surely.
As “1777” winds down and “Cheyenne” begins, the general tone of the album becomes calmer. This is really the building moment that was missing from the first few songs. There’s just enough energy to keep things interesting, yet it’s calm enough to not overdo it. Russian Circles also cleans up their lengthy pieces and shortens each track up. This is fantastic because it gives each song a little more character. For instance, “Ethel,” the sixth track of the album is wonderful. It starts with atmospheric, ambient guitars. The drums and main guitar melody begin to work their way in, it’s definitely a little less metal, but a lot more memorable. The final track, “Memorial,” starts things off with some acoustic guitar and builds from there. It’s a great post-rock piece, and the added vocals create some awesome texture.
Overall, it only seems as though Memorial just comes off too strong too soon. There’s nothing wrong with metal, but tossing two incredibly lengthy songs with tons of distortion and powerful drums within the first half of the album can be really off putting. On the other hand, sticking around for the post-rock masterpieces of the latter half is well worth it. Of course if you’re a diehard metal fan, this is all moot, and you’re going to enjoy Memorial regardless of how it starts or ends.
In conclusion, Memorial is pretty great when you dissect it, but slightly daunting when you listen to it from start to finish. Track order shouldn’t really take away from Russian Circles’ own merit though. Each song is seriously good in it’s own way. It’s not exactly the album you suggest to somebody just getting into post-rock, but it’s definitely great for fans