In the not-too-distant past, when one discussed 'instrumental' Heavy Metal acts, thoughts would invariably turn to the most obvious of choices à la Karma To Burn, Pelican, Sunn O))). However, when guitarist Mike Sullivan and bassist Colin DeKuipe (both formerly of the woefully-unsung Dakota/Dakota) joined forces with former Riddle Of Steel drummer Dave Turncrantz as Russian Circles, the resulting sonic ingenuity would leave an immediate, long-lasting impact on the sub-genre(s) as a whole. After amicably parting ways DeKuipe (and recruiting ex-Botch/These Arms Are Snakes bassist Brian Cook) following the release of their full-length debut Enter (2006), the group quickly solidified their reputation as a bona fide creative force not be ignored via a series of universally-praised offerings. Now, with the issuance of the touted Blood Year, their latest--and quite possibly greatest--offering to date now upon us, they at last appear poised for unprecedented global recognition.
On the stellar Blood Year (2019), an expertly assembled seven song collection of instrumental Progressive Heavy Metal, each track, beginning with the maddeningly infectious gem “Hunter Moon” and the relentlessly pummeling first single “Arluck”, immediately command the rapt and undivided attention of even the most jaded and unimaginative of listeners, myself most definitely included. Effortlessly flexing their woefully-underrated creative muscles early and often, the group yields a series of initial auditory offerings that are as impressive as they are thoroughly satisfying. While not necessarily groundbreaking and not yet legendary, the group easily exceeds even the most optimistic of expectations--many of which were unrealistically lofty following the well-deserved successes of Guidance (2016) and Memorial (2013). Maintaining an artful, never precarious balance of power and melody, the group lays the foundations for the undisputed and virtuosic mastery that soon follows.
Continuing with the shimmering exercise in fuzz-tone riffage that is “Milano” and the deliciously 'gloomful' tome “Kohokia”, the airtight--to say the very least--combination of guitarist Mike Sullivan, bassist Brian Cook (ex-Botch and These Arms Are Snakes, among others) and drummer Dave Turncrantz steamrolls ahead like the well-oiled machine they so obviously are. Firing on all cylinders early and often, the group delivers a punishing, multi-dimensional barrage of blistering fretwork and imaginatively punishing rhythms that have personified their career. Wasting little--if any--time reinforcing (and, in some cases introducing) their already painstakingly-documented penchant for thunderous, albeit occasionally thought-provoking, instrumentation, the lack of vocals free the listener to further expand their emotional and intellectual consciousness. Engulfing their uniquely rabid constituents in a swarming 'sonicscape' that shamelessly harkens to a bygone era, the group boldly forges ahead.
Produced by the acclaimed Kurt Ballou (Converge, Kid Kilowatt, Blue/Green Heart) at renowned Chicago, Illinois-based Electrical Audio (Foxy Shazam, Soil, Ted Yoder), other standouts, including the all-too-brief--yet highly-effective lament “Ghost On High” and the equally impressive rumbling closer “Quartered”, only serve to further reinforce their LEFTful position within the hierarchies of the sub-genre. Maintaining their reputation for crushing, if not outLEFT smothering, compositions while wisely refraining from resting on their laurels, Blood Year 'hits' far more than it 'misses', making it one of the finest new releases of the rapidly waning year. Perhaps the group's most accessible and, as a result, thoroughly enjoyable yet, much of the group's prolonged success can be attributed to the ceaseless honing of their already razor-sharp chops. Although it may appear as if I'm providing the group with exaggerated ovation, rest assured these truly are among their finest in-studio moments.
But is it really that good? Absolutely! Ultimately serving as an fitting addition to their already impressively sprawling catalog, the majority--if not all--of the lastingly memorable wares contained herein are guaranteed to leave both die-hard Enter (2006) era completists and clueless newcomers alike begging for more. While quite obviously not for everyone (regardless of 'personal tastes', vocals, are often a large and important aspect of mass appeal), the end result(s) of the group's more-than-considerable efforts are once again nothing short of extra of extraordinary and deserve to be treated accordingly. Love 'em or loathe 'em, this is quite possibly as good as instrumental Heavy Metal gets. Needless to say, if you've once again found yourself in search of a refreshingly forthLEFT alternative to the painfully mindless din and clatter that is so often force fed en mass, then this, my friends, might just be the high-octane cure-all for what it is that ails you. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.