Russian Circles justify ‘heaviest album to date’ tag on explosive ‘Empros’

Reading press releases is both very informative and kind of pointless. Yes, said pieces are chock-full of information about the band and album you’re about to tackle, but so often, these write-ups are overly inflated with added details about how the record is “the best thing the band has ever done” or that it’s a “career-defining moment” or that the band is “stronger than ever before.”

What do you expect a press release to say? “This album isn’t as good as the band’s last one, but sometimes you hit a bump in the road. Just give them a break.” That doesn’t make for good copy to move albums or drum up interest, and I get why overly inflating a record’s quality is done. People get paid to excite people and get them to drop money on music, which is something consumers are doing less and less these days. But that’s not to suggest all press releases are misleading and all PR folks are shysters.  I deal with a ton of great people every day that have a hand in helping me bring to you what I do here at Meat Mead Metal, and I appreciate them a ton. But I still read every press release with some skepticism, even if those good PR folks aren’t to blame for my cynicism.

I read the details about Chicago instrumental (um, mostly … more on that later) group Russian Circles’ new record “Empros,” a piece of work that’s described as the band’s heaviest to date. Immediately the red flags went up (and the release is from a good source … so it was just a reaction to words) and I wondered if that description really was accurate. I’ve been into the band’s music ever since their 2006 debut full-length “Enter,” and I’ve generally always enjoyed their work (especially 2008’s “Station”). While I wouldn’t shy away from calling some of their music heavy, I always found them a band stuck somewhere between post-metal and indie rock, as generic a term as both may be. Russian Circles weren’t typically a band that would bloody your knuckles and instead made music that made your mind soar.

But from my initial exposure to “Empros,” I realized those words “heaviest album to date” not only were pretty spot on but that maybe it didn’t go far enough. This is a convulsive, quaking, thrashing album that most likely will leave you devastated. The trio of guitarist Mike Sullivan, bassist Brian Cook and drummer Dave Tumcrantz immediately go for the jugular with this record, and if they did have a vocalist, chances are that persons approach would be hellish screams and guttural shouts because those would be the only ways to match the musical intensity. People into Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor probably still will find plenty to like on this record, but devotees to ISIS, Neurosis and Pelican likely will enjoy this tumultuous ride as well. It’s just that explosive.

The records rips open with “309,” a track full of noise squall, massive ambiance and lead guitar lines that soar across the landscape, and it paves the way for “Mladek,” a song the band named after their beloved European tour driver, that sometimes reaches for some of The Edge’s dramatic guitar histrionics (from the era before his band got embarrassing) and eventually melts into metallic chugging and stabbing. “Schipol” (shoegazey and calm before fading into noise), “Atackla” (delicate and shimmery at start, bloodthirsty and mangling toward the end) and “Batu” (spacey, staticy and doomy, sort of like labelmates Boris) all are bridged together to give off the sense of what the listener would experience if they saw the band live, and it’s a nice, seamless approach. Closer “Praise Be Man” is the total curveball, as the song rises out of gentle acoustics into psychedelic rock noise, and it’s the first Russian Circles track with vocals. The song definitely stands apart from the rest of the album, and it sounds like a nod to producer Brandon Curtis and his former band The Secret Machines. It’s not a misstep at all, as one may fear from an all-instrumental band, and it’s a really imaginative different track that could hint at some of their future journeys.

So yeah, it’s the heaviest thing Russian Circles have done yet, and it’s a really strong album. It might even unseat “Station” as my favorite record in this band’s canon, but it’ll take a little bit of time before I know that for sure. There’s very little time to relax on “Empros,” and if you planned to use this album as a means of relaxation, think again. Instead, you might find yourself climbing the walls, annoying the neighbors, and finding out just how much volume your home stereo system can handle.

For more on the band, go here:

To buy “Empros,” go here:

For more on the label, go here:

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