PICK OF THE WEEK: Russian Circles remain steady, get even heavier on psyche-crushing ‘Blood Year’

Consistency in music is a nice-to-have element, but with things changing so much, musicians coming and going from bands, and inspirations not always being up to par, putting out a series of strong records isn’t always a given. The ups and downs sometime accumulate charm over time, or it makes the high points even more satisfying, but hammering it home every time is a lofty expectation.

Which makes it even more astonishing that Russian Circles nail it every time out. With the release of their seventh record “Blood Year,” this instrumental trio continues what’s been one of the most consistent runs in music in any category, as they always bring their best. This record follows three years of touring on their last album “Guidance” (their last time in Pittsburgh sold out, and I was late to the draw) and the trials and tribulations that come with that, and they pour all of that unrest in these seven tracks. This is some of the band’s meatiest, heaviest music yet, and while they’ve always sort of been metal adjacent, the band—guitarist Mike Sullivan, bassist Brian Cook, and drummer Dave Turncrantz— moves a little closer to that center here, and it’s an exhilarating experience. But it’s not just sonic punishment, as the melodies remain powerful and charging, and the album is imaginative as hell.

“Hunter Moon” enters as an introductory piece that fades in slowly, situates in the darkness, and then lurks toward “Arluck,” where drums meet you at the gates and set the pace. The bass drives hard while the guitars light up, with the riffs absolutely trucking. The guitar work continues to punish as you wind through back alleys and into a cold patch, where calm and echoing slide guitars set the mood. The song ramps back up, splashing psychedelics before hammering everything home. “Milano” starts dreamy but punchy with melodic smashing and seething riffs. Cold guitars chime behind the main wall as the emotion wells up and raises temperatures, stretches, and wails out in noise.

“Kohokia” gets off to an ominous start, as the drumming brings more darkness, and the playing feels introspective and spacey. Just then, the intensity and the volume pick up dramatically, as strong melodies pull into volcanic waves before a cloud cover settles over and gives a break from the sun before darting off to the stars. “Ghost on High” is a quick interlude built by quivering noise and buzzing, leading toward “Sinaia” that bubbles in the atmosphere as the pressure climbs. A deluge of guitars rushes over the ground as the playing gets muscular and angular, slowly crushing you to a stain. From there, the riffs pummel the senses as the drums light up, the track begins to find its grounding, and the end comes forcefully. “Quartered” closes the record, beginning in echo before massive guitars come in, setting up the heaviest section of this record. The track is muddy and thrashy as hell, making it feel like the band has gone into the heart of battle. That continues to snake through the entire song, making every stretch dangerous and refusing to relent until the assault has reaped its rewards.

Russian Circles continue to be compelling and fiery seven records into their career, and “Blood Year” is the band reshaping itself yet again, something they’ve done quite well over their 15 years together. The music is melodic but authoritative, forceful but thoughtful, and it’s ripe for repeat listening, which isn’t a surprise coming from this band. Russian Circles haven’t disappointed us yet, and clichéd as it may sound, this album almost sounds like they’re just getting started.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/russiancirclesmusic/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/russian-circles

For more on the label, go here: https://sargenthouse.com/