Ireland as a nation hosts a deep found love of instrumental music. This could be a result of the fact that this particular genre has become extremely fashionable over the past decade or so. Perhaps there is more romantic reasoning behind it — it could be due to an implicit yearning genetically engrained in our spirit, passed from the love for instrumental music which was heavily guarded by our Gaelic forefathers. Throughout the centuries, Irish musicians have sat armed with an array of traditional Celtic instruments and played songs that embraced a wide range of emotions, from joy to heartache, without a single word being sung. They provided the desperate crowds that disappeared deep within the repetitive rhythms and rich melodies, a reprieve from the realities of the world.
Without delving too far down nostalgia road, this appreciation has been carried forward to the modern day. Ireland is currently jammed packed with mute bands that are satisfied to leave singers on the welfare line, preferring to paint pictures with their musicianship alone. A crop of hungry young bands populate the scene, And So I Watch You From Afar, God is an Astronaut, Adebisi Shank and tonight’s openers — Enemies, being amongst the most potent. Enemies draw a large crowd despite the early start afforded to them, their sound going down a treat for anyone who likes dollops of sugar-incrusted, indie-pop amongst choppy instrumentals. On the likes of “Nag Champa” and “We’ve Been Talking”, Enemies show how their disparaging melodies can form a blissful whole within the confines of self contained song structures. If Enemies continue to write with such enthusiasm and adventure, headlining a sold out show at tonight’s venue — The Button Factory, might become a reality.
Acclaimed post-black metallers Deafheaven, provide direct support to Russian Circles tonight and set a solemn atmosphere. Encroaching guitar feedback gives way to weighty ambience of “Violet” before the blast furnace beats and tremolo-picked guitars ramp up the temperature; shocking the unfamiliar. Singer George Clarke is the obvious focal point, equal parts GAP model and wounded banshee, his performance leaving an ambiguous impression as to whether his pain is coming from genuine emotion or whether it’s part of a contrived angst-filled persona. Tonight the crowd seem indifferent to his posturing, leaving him to shriek his way through chapters from debut; Roads to Judah. “Language Games” and “Unrequited” bear their teeth in a live environment with some of more delicate layers of guitar stripped by the mix, making the band sound more baleful. The doom-filled ending of “Exit:Denied” further confirms this impression and ends Deafheaven’s set in convincing style.
A lone incandescent light sits impassively centre stage, providing a beacon through the haze of smoke that swallows the stage. Its presence is flanked either side by guitarist Mike Sullivan and bassist Brian Cook, with drummer Dave Turncrantz enthroned at the rear; completing the Russian Circles trinity. The cheers and applause greeting the band, slowly residing to reveal the finger-tapped, clarion call of set opener “Carpe”; much to the crowd’s delight. “Carpe”‘s wandering structures and seamless progressions recalling the approach of the mighty and much overlooked — Shora, in that; the slow builds typical of the genre are discarded in favour of musical peaks and valleys throughout one song. The untameable energy that exists within this track is magnified exponentially tonight, careening between its various moods and ending with devastating effect.
The acquisition of the bass playing talent of Brian Cook (who joined in 2007, playing on second full-length — Station), has had a tremendous impact on Russian Circles. Formerly of hardcore/post-hardcore luminaries Botch and These Arms Are Snakes, the throbbing neuroma of his bass-lines has made the band more forceful and in many ways more intelligent. His gift for kinetically connecting with Dave Turncrantz’ intricate rhythms, allows Mike Sullivan the freedom to drain every sound possible from his guitar via his effect pedals, as seen and heard tonight on the likes of “Harper Lewis” and “309”. The latter being one of three tracks aired tonight from latest album Empros. Here, Turncrantz’ rock solid back-beat in parts echoing the spirit of John Bonham and Dave Grohl in its sure-footed delivery. The tempo of this song slows mid-way, with feedback reaching out touching all in attendance before that drum beat kicks back in; subsequently followed by a mirroring bass-line and scalding reverb-laced guitar leads.
The track’s chosen tonight from Russian Circles armoury all contain a dark, malicious undercurrent and the entire experience is the equivalent of raging against an oncoming tide. The quasi-metalisms of “Geneva” and “Youngblood”, both containing similarities to the growling riff approach that Pelican took on their monument to post-metal; Australasia. This darkness lingers non-evasively with the subtle feeling of apprehension in the music making tonight’s atmosphere electric. “Batu” further enhances the unease, as Cook’s marauding bass-line stomps all over the track; the crowd responding to its stature by furiously head-banging as the rhythmic pulse increases.
“Mladek”‘s tender and hopeful opening notes provide welcomed clemency and impressively showcase Mike Sullivan’s commanding control over his guitar; especially considering he’s playing with an injured hand. The light does not last long, and over the course of the song gives way to the squalling, dirty feedback that ends the track; a complete contradiction with how it began. Thus is the brilliance of Russian Circles, they take such confidence from their ability to meld contrasting ideas within one song and manage to do so without an ounce of clumsiness. This is no more evident than on curtain closer, “Death Rides a Horse”, the second track from debut Enter emphatically bookending the night. “Death…” musically matches the name it was christened. Its stifling riffs giving way to melodic guitars and drum beat patterns that gather and scatter at will; resulting in the crowd oddly head-banging one minute and dancing to the catchy excursions the next. However, the crowd are stopped by the big stinking Mastodon riffage at the track’s fulcrum that in turn flows into the solitary drum beat which is dragged out live by Turncrantz, causing the crowd to cheer rabidly before the chest-caving end riff provides a perfect exclamation mark to the night.
With all great instrumental music, it must capture a feeling and warp it in the mind of the listener. It must bring the listener on a journey; frighten and delight in equal measure. All of which are achievable in album format where the listener can relax and vegetate upon the sounds sculpted by the artist. It takes a special band to accomplish this intimate feeling in a live setting. Tonight Russian Circles have achieved just that.
Tonight Russian Circles invade your senses.
2. Harper Lewis
8. Death Rides a Horse