One of the best ways to determine a crowd’s fondness for a band is to gauge the uproar that occurs when a late-comer attempts to squeeze his or her way to the front of the crowd.
Using this logic, Russian Circles present a curious case indeed.
Throughout the evening, people seemed quite happy to move back and forward among the crowd. No one was torn to shreds by tattooed bikers, and no one was crushed under the surges of momentum that tend to categorize crowd behavior during heavy, energetic performances.
But that’s not to say the crowd was small. Or at all disinterested.
It evidently takes a certain type of fan to really get off on a band like Russian Circles, who take as much inspiration from the doom and drone acts of their Chicago hometown as they do from the spacey, atmospheric landscapes evoked by Texan bands like This Will Destroy You.
Even during the support acts of Agonhymn and Eagle Twin, there was certainly a lot of love going around for genre-bending. Agonhym’s ‘doom-jazz’ was met with curiosity, while Eagle Twin made enough noise to make any Circles fans that had hoped to slip outside for a cigarette reconsider.
This dichotomy of influences continued when the headline act took the stage, with bassist Brian Cook sporting a buttoned-up shirt and looking like a Brooklyn barista.
The strange choice of wardrobe was forgotten within seconds as the band fired up with “309”, the opening track of their latest – and so far heaviest – album, Empros.
Surprisingly, the roar of their sound was generated in the tubes of Cook’s bass amp, which did the heavy-lifting while his six-string counterpart looped, tapped and plucked around in the higher frequencies.
When the two instruments aligned however, a near-perfect performance by those at the mixing desk ensured that the speakers oozed some of the warmest, fattest guitar-filth that this venue has seen in some time.
Fans would have been reasonably happy with the setlist, which touched base with each of their four studio albums. Of the newer stuff, “Mládek” was probably the most well-received – culminating in a galloping triplet passage that was reminiscent of a Metallica or Tool track (Russian Circles supported the latter on a recent tour).
From there, the band pondered over some slower, apocalyptic-sounding numbers. Tracks like “Harper Lewis” and “Schiphol” were notable for the way that drummer Mike Sullivan was able to give life to the droning chord progressions and provide a much-needed sonic lift.
Moving into double time passages and peppering the end of each bar with explosive fills, he simply refused to settle for a back-beat until his hands were red-raw. Given that Pelican – Russian Circles’ closest musical cousin – have been widely criticised for ham-fisted drumming, perhaps Sullivan is out to prove a point.
Strangely, for a band that obviously prides itself on sprawling, beyond-epic instrumentals – the length of their setlist was anything but. When the triumphant “Death Rides A Horse” (the bands only encore) came to a close, the show had lasted just over an hour – fifteen minutes short of their scheduled set.
This, combined with the awkward pauses between many of their songs, gave the impression that this is a band that is probably still grasping with the prospect of playing such drawn-out and complex music in a live setting.
They needn’t be afraid though, because in the end, the lack of pushing, shoving or moshing in the crowd signified that these meditative metalheads inspire fans who are happy to just stand, listen to and enjoy their music.
– Adam Slater