As a kid growing up in the foothills of South Carolina, I didn’t spend much time at the coast. And when I did get to the ocean, it was primarily by way of the marshes in Savannah, GA or the beaches of St. Petersburg, FL, visiting family and friends. These natural geographical boundaries were smooth entryways into the Atlantic, a gentle transition into the vast expanse of the ocean. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I got to experience a West Coast beach. I visited cousins who lived in Oregon and one day we took a drive along and stopped to see the Pacific.
The moments spent there were transformative. Here was a “beach” that wasn’t so much a stretch of sand, but rather a mass of giant rocks, strewn out as if by some giant hand that got tired of carrying them. No easy shift from land into the sea, this was a punctuation mark that, if you weren’t careful, would shake you off and drop you straight into the abyss of tongues that is the waters crashing all around. While I had always loved nature and felt a peace there that was like coming home, this was a brand new thing. There, on those rocks, with that wind and that sun joining hands and enveloping me, I felt so incredibly small and yet so certain of my place in the universe. Unnerved and reassured.
This is the music of Russian Circles. This is the impact of their new record, Guidance. It is a transcendent experience and, with this album, the three fine gentlemen who make up Russian Circles, have once again asserted themselves as one of the most talented bands in existence. No need to hedge your bets by throwing in the descriptor “instrumental.” One of the most talented bands. Period.
The album is bookended by two beautiful tracks, “Asa” at the beginning and “Lisboa” at the end. The former is Russian Circles in their most meditative element. It’s an inviting piece of music that doesn’t reveal the full weight of fury and power that you’ll be experiencing later in the journey. It feels like something brand new for this band and I look forward to hearing more of this part of their sound in future.
Things kick into high gear with “Vorel” and “Mota.” One of the first things you’ll notice as you listen to this album is that it’s an immersive, living, breathing thing. This has been true of aspects of their older records, but Guidance feels like a unified composition, from start to finish. This is one of its truly inspiring characteristics. It’s one thing to be able to create a song that hangs together as a complete thought, but to pull that off across an entire album? Bravo fellas. At any rate, “Vorel” and “Mota” are galloping beasts, consuming all in their path, taking no prisoners. They are, in a word, exhilarating.
From there, we’re greeted by the shimmering intro to “Afrika” and given a chance to catch our breaths for a moment. But before too long, we’re caught up in the fervor and power, swept along in a current of power and melodic joy. This is Brian Cook, Mike Sullivan, and Dave Turncrantz at their most triumphant. “Overboard” provides a bit of a pause, closing out the first chapter of Guidance and ushering in the second. As for “Calla,” the following track? As a Dark Tower junkie, I’m just going to assume that this was named after the fifth book in Stephen King’s magnum opus, “Wolves of the Calla” until I’m proven wrong. The heavy intensity of the track certainly fits within the decaying and uncertain environment of a gunslinger and his trusted circle of compatriots, fighting to defend a village from vicious attackers.
The final song, “Lisboa,” finds Russian Circles almost in Earth territory: rich guitar tones that hang in the air as the drums provide each footstep, slowly but surely through the dense atmosphere. Before long however, it shifts into a sort of elegy, passionately looking back at what we’ve all lived through together. It celebrates and laments, unnerves and reassures in the midst of loss and renewal. Taken together, this record is one of the best I’ve heard this year. Make some time to listen and get swept away into the abyss.
– Jeremy Hunt