There are bands that conjure very specific personal images for me. Even when listening to them becomes habitual—for instance, Explosions in the Sky’s The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place for each and every jog—the music never loses its power. Instead, the sounds gather energy, ingrained and enmeshed in the everyday, like breathing.
Russian Circles’ Memorial, their fifth album, released in 2013, is one of those records. As its title suggests, it reflects on death, loss, and remembrance (there is a song called “Burial”). The best songs are melancholic, but also angry—as you often are when you lose a loved one. My friend Kenny died a little less than a year before Memorial was released; he was young and his wife gave birth to their first child a couple weeks after he passed. For me, Memorial became Kenny’s record, one that reminds me of our time together, a friendship that ended way too soon with me trying to hold it together while reading the eulogy at his funeral. It’s not easy listening, but I play it all the time—religion, I guess, for someone who doesn’t have it otherwise.
So it’s been interesting standing back and taking a listen to “Vorel,” a song from Russian Circle’s forthcoming Kurt Ballou-produced sixth album, Guidance. On it, guitarist Mike Sullivan, drummer Dave Turncrantz, and bassist Brian Cook move through their now familiar dynamics—gentle, pensive, clean guitars that eventually bloom into cathartic full-band metal crescendo. But they manage to keep it engaging and even enthralling. The trio’s been together for more than a decade and you can imagine them finishing each other’s sentences. On Guidance, they play with what feels like telepathy.
The cover of the collection features a photo of a man, his face unbroken, being led to an execution with stoic dignity. But there’s nothing stoic about “Vorel”: it kicks and punches and screams without words. It’s hard to know what the song means, and the album is too new to feel connected to anything outside of my headphones. That said, Guidance, in general, features a more bad-ass Russian Circles, a group that seems less elegiac, and more ready to plant their feet solidly on the ground, fighting back bloodied and bruised against each body blow.