October 12, 2016 Russian Circles Bring Guidance To Brooklyn, NY 9-30-16 w/ Helms Alee
Emotions hold a vast amount of movements and transitions. They can drop to a somber internal echo or rise to an explosive vengeance in the blink of an eye. A spectrum of feelings all of humanity experience in life, music can help one heal, cope, or even let off a bit of steam. That said, the Experimental Rock/Metal offspring known as Post Rock has morphed over the past few decades, displaying the roller coaster of human emotion through instrumental melodic compositions. One such band that rose from the new millennium’s Post Rock movement is Chicago, Illinois’ three-piece band known as Russian Circles.
Coming on the scene within the same time period as others such as Pelican, Explosions in the Sky, Red Sparowes, and Japan’s Mono, to name a few, Russian Circle’s 2006 debut full-length album, Enter, struck up a lot of attention. A continuously flowing piece of music, the record opened the door for Russian Circles to support Tool on tour in the United Kingdom back in 2007. Meanwhile, stateside they were building a strong fanbase performing at small clubs like Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey and just a few short month later were headlining Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York supporting 2008’s Station. Since then, Russian Circles has been trending upward, creating dissonant, harsh arrangements with each passing album, and on August 5, 2016, they released their sixth overall studio album, Guidance. An anticipated follow-up to 2013’s Memorial, the seven track collection is nothing less than flawless and mind-expanding.
Promoting the new material the consistent collective of Brian Cook (bass), Mike Sullivan (guitar), and Dave Turncrantz (drums) are in the midst of an extensive North American tour. A tour broken into two legs, the first included supporting act Cloakroom and the second, and most present, includes Helms Alee as direct support. Over a month into the run, Russian Circles stopped to the familiar grounds of Brooklyn on Friday, September 30th, to perform at Warsaw Ballroom in the Greenpoint section of the New York City borough.
Arriving at the venue on quite a wet evening, concert goers took a moment to dry off from the rain and grab a refreshing drink at the bar prior to the opening set of Helms Alee. Hailing from Seattle, Washington, Helms Alee have been part of the Sargent House label with Russian Circles since 2013 and are currently promoting their fourth studio album, 2016’s Stillicide. A unique batch of musicians, the trio includes Ben Verellen (guitar/vocals), Dana James (bass), as well as Hozoji Matheson-Margullis (drums), and their style is difficult to categorize. No stranger to touring, they recently wrapped up dates with The Melvins before hitting the road again with Russian Circles.
Lights, interaction, and explanations were not needed for Helms Alee as they were there for one thing only; to perform music. That in mind, Verellen sliced through his guitar riffs as his hair whip through the air while he howled into the microphone. Meanwhile, James hid her face in her long dark hair, focused on bringing an abrasive sound with bass lines that rolled throughout the entire set with an unstoppable force. Then there was Matheson-Margullis which led each song with the pounding of the drums completing the ensemble and creating a full, distorted sound.
The sound was quite fierce in fact as spectators headbanged throughout songs that included “Ripper No Lube,” “Andromenous,” “Pleasure Center,” “Tumescence,” “Pretty As Pie,” “Stillicide,” and “Fetus. Carcass.” As the tracks moved with ease, James took a surprising moment to interact with the audience, speaking softly and mentioning that they were from Seattle. Also informing the compelled audience they had few more songs left, the band wasted no time to blast out more music with “Paraphrase,” “Untoxicated” and closed with “Galloping Mind Fuk.” There was no goodbye and Helms Alee casually walked off the stage leaving fans hungry for more. Helms Alee are a unique act and fit quite well to open for Russian Circles, putting on a performance one cannot actually classify as just Instrumental, Metal, nor Rock.
Excited for more music, the audience managed to dabble in some Zywiec specialty beer as they patiently awaited the arrival of the headlining act. Then, shortly after, the stage switched from near darkness to backlit shadows and it was time for Russian Circles to conquer the evening. Music continued to play as the lights flickered, alluding that they would be on stage any moment.
With dark, emotive lighting that regularly changed between complete darkness to an instant flash of illumination, Russian Circles appeared, opening with “Asa.” In no rush, everyone in the audience glued their eyes to the stage and many even let themselves go into a headbanging frenzy. Screaming at the top of their lungs in response to the adrenaline rush that the music provided, the set continued with “Vorel” and “Deficit.” From here, the venue was engulfed in complete darkness, almost pitch black after each song, and “309” from 2011’s Empros was no different. Not speak to the audience at all, the music was the only voice necessary as they moved into other beautiful songs such “Afrika” and “Harper Lewis.”
Continuing to let loose, the audience was immersed deep under Russian Circles’ spell as they continued to dominate with tunes such as “1777” and “Calla.” It was so dream-like, many lost track of time, and it felt as though the clock froze where no one knew how long or short the band was performing. Sadly, the night was drawing near its conclusion when “Mládek” came on with an extended and engaging guitar riff. This is when the lights went on for the first time as Cook, Sullivan, along with Turncrantz briefly gazed into the crowd, quickly waved and departed from the stage. Pleading for more, the lights went back to a near pitch black state as some daringly plunged their way towards the front of the stage, eager to hear more. Several fans clapped their hands in hopes of Russian Circles return, and soon enough they did, performing an encore of “Youngblood.”
Russian Circles offer an incredible amount of guitar riffs, huge momentum, and endless captivation with their live performances. They compelled the audience by the strike of one note, and it was clear that the music was the only voice needed. Each musician was in tune with the other and it is always a trip to see Sullivan work with his loop pedals to create an orchestra of sounds on his own. With the US tour now concluded, the band set their sights on Europe, kicking off in Poland on October 21st. Until they return to the US, the best way to describe Russian Circles is that their instrumentation and live performance speak for itself, bringing the music, nothing more and nothing less.