Memorial review by Russian Circles

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  • Released: Oct 29, 2013
  • Sound: 6
  • Lyrics: 6
  • Overall Impression: 5
  • Reviewer's score: 5.7 Decent
  • Users' score: 9.2 (16 votes)
Russian Circles: Memorial
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Sound — 6
Russian Circles is a three-piece band from Chicago. Since their first EP in 2004, they have played an ambient form of music that can be described either as post-rock or post-metal, though I would consider it closer to post-metal due to their use of chugging riffs and heavy distortion. Still, many of their songs are very soft and use quite the opposite of these techniques, keeping them in the territory of post-rock as well.

Semantics aside, the prime goal of Russian Circles is to create an experience for the listener. While many will disagree with me, I believe that their lack of vocals (all but one of these songs are instrumentals) actually makes it harder to create an experience because it leaves the task of interpreting the experience to the listener whereas other bands (Led Zeppelin) force the listener to interpret the experience in a certain way.

Maybe it's due to my lack of creativeness, but I fail to register any direct experience with this album. The musicianship is somewhat interesting (for all I know this has more mathematical calculations than a Tool album), and the transitions between sections are flawless, but this album fails to connect with me. The only thing I can feel is the idea that the setting for this album is in some post-apocalyptic future, although the song titles indicate a veiled US history lesson.

This album, though the songs are interconnected, can be easily cut into two halves. The first three songs feel more like a drumming montage; the drums are creative center of attention while the guitars lay the baseline. The second half, starting with "Cheyenne," is guitar centered with the drums providing the baseline, as is usually the case in rock music. The eerie thing is that "Cheyenne" is devoid of drums, so I feel like it's a signal of the transition I've mentioned.

As far as the guitars go, they set a nice landscape and have a few good riffs here and there but they aren't really a big deal. Other than the nice, peaceful tapping on "Ethel" and the quick rhythm on a certain part of "Deficit," there isn’t really much to say for them. Even when they were the center of attention during the second half of the album, the guitars were not that remarkable. Honestly, drummer Dave Turncrantz showed the best musicianship on the album. His parts were much more engaging and interesting to listen to than the guitars or bass was.

One of the positives of the album, as I mentioned before, is its ability to transition between different sections beautifully. The album is best divided into sections because all of the songs literally blend into each other, usually in an extended chord of feedback. Anyway, these sections range in sound from the subtlest acoustic guitar to the sludgiest distorted guitar, yet the changes are hardly noticed and everything flows in harmony as one, single unit.

However, the album still, after a second full listen, does not make me experience anything distinct. Since there isn't much that is tangible in this album, like a catchy riff or chorus, the album's appeal rests almost solely on the experience imposed. And again, I cannot feel one.

Of course, other listeners will almost certainly feel differently than I do and since these types of albums rely almost solely on the "experience," which is an extraordinarily subjective phenomenon, I can say with sincerity that my opinion will not speak for all, maybe not even most, listeners. The point of that very long sentence was to convey a word of advice; give this album a listen; you most certainly will feel different than I do.

Lyrics — 6
Most of this album is instrumental, though the last song (section) has some shoegaze-like vocals by Chelsea Wolfe. On that note, it's interesting to note that the first and last songs follow the same rough structure and use the exact same quiet progression in an apparent tribute to a Pink Floyd album. The sad thing is that neither section appears innately related to the rest of the album and the ending seems somewhat forced. Still, these sections managed to transition well between the more relevant parts of the album. On their own, the sections sound fine. They just feel forced into this album-starts-and-ends-the-same mold.

Overall Impression — 5
Overall, this experiment in experience falls short. While the sections are beautifully intertwined, there is no easily discernible meaning, at least to me. Again, since the idea of an "experience" is subjective, I encourage everyone to give this album a listen because while it didn't strike a chord with me, there is certainly nothing in it that would immediately turn anybody off.

For anybody looking for something melodic, the best song to listen to would be "Ethel."

20 comments sorted by best / new / date

    faithfracture
    I got exactly what I expected from Memorial. I thought the album was great & that the guys all did a great job on it. "I believe that their lack of vocals ... actually makes it harder to create an experience because it leaves the task of interpreting the experience to the listener" That's THE POINT! The instrumental music is supposed to speak for itself. It's not like this is the first (mostly) instrumental album they've made. They have all been that way (in case you haven't noticed). What it sounds like you're saying is that you don't want to (or more likely, judging from your writing skills, don't have the intellectual capacity to) interpret the music and get the experience the band was trying to project. If you dislike instrumental music because it hurts to use your tiny brain so much, WHY ARE YOU REVIEWING INSTRUMENTAL ALBUMS?!?!?!?!?
    kratos379
    I don't understand the criticism about the lack of vocals on the album. Some bands can pull off pure instrumental albums brilliantly. Vocals aren't always necessary to create an experience. I feel like this reviewer would look past many great bands, such as Scale the Summit for the same unjustified reason. I also think the Led Zeppelin reference doesn't make sense, unless the song No Quarter is mentioned, since that's the only song by them that might fit in with this band's style.
    ryanbu
    Where the **** did the Led Zeppelin comparison come from? Your review is far too introspective and provides very little value, UG step up your game.
    third(-)eye
    I haven't even heard the album and I can tell that this is a crap review just based on the way it's written.
    cobain42
    This is the first album I ever got from Russian Circles and it really is one of the best instrumental works I've ever heard. Each song conveys so many different textures and imagery. From heavy and militaristic to spacey and introspective, Russian Circles knows how to keep it interesting. Not to mention I also love Chelsea Wolfe's contribution, as unexpected as it was, I think it brought a new depth to the last track when compared to the first.
    teknoman
    Memorial (ft. Chelsea Wolfe) is a beautiful, haunting, melodic tune... someone uploaded a live performace of this song around 2 weeks ago and I became hipnotyzed by the sound and the arrengements and the vocals and everything... excellent song IMO. Edit: I should clarify that i didnt know about Russian Circles until I watched that video.
    Skyvalve2012
    Saw these guys with Coheed last spring. Freaking brilliant, their work is beautiful yet brutal, but very expansive.
    punkieman
    It's just there's a difference between an album with a 5-6 rating and this album , and let's not kid ourselfs this is not a 5 nor a six... anyway! they say musical taste is personal and I agree
    punkieman
    This is the worst review of this album anyone has ever done... It's a great post-metal/prog record and you should review it as one!
    DEG_III
    I think what makes a 'good' review is incredibly subjective. For me, a good review is one which doesn't let any pre-conceived impressions of a band (whether they be positive or negative) affect the review and this one doesn't. I don't agree with the opinions of the reviewer for sure, but I can appreciate that he is giving an honest and respectful judgement.
    AWACS
    Dear UG, please get someone else from your team to review this album again. This reviewer obviously doesn't quite have an appreciation for this kind of music. And as for"...expected from this band and genre of music." Excuse me, but one of the things I like about post-rock/metal is that its such a broad genre. No other band sounds like Russian Circles. Its with Scale the Summit, and Animals as Leaders; if these bands had vocals, I feel like it would TAKE AWAY from the music they are trying to create. I also like Dream Theater's instrumental songs.
    Xenophy
    whoever wrote this article has no clue what they are talking about, or any knowledge of song structure or music in general for that matter
    SleepFan
    This review reads like someone who has never heard of instrumental music before, bullshit and unprofessional, UG. Shameful.
    jamie_hough
    This bands first 2 albums (actually I think their first release was an EP? The one with Death Rides a Horse on?) were amazing - truly ground breaking in my opinion. The uncomfortable fact though is that all their following releases have gotten steadily worse which is a shame. I still lap it all up but yeah I'm with the reviewer here, its a fair assessment.
    goest
    Anyone who can listen to Station and not think it's their best work is delusional.
    Holoogamooga
    Gotta agree with this. I loved their first two albums, but after that they started sounding more like Explosions in the Sky than Russian Circles.
    sbriggs31
    Wow talk about a poor review. I understand not connecting with it as everyone's tastes and opinions are different but cmon...a 5.7??? And no lyrics thing is stupid too. You don't need lyrics to create a great song. If you want to talk about connecting, my mom passed away on New Years and this album I thought was great before but now I really connect with it more since her passing. Memorial is an amazing, yet simple song but evokes emotion from it. Go listen to long distance calling or something if you want vocals in your "post-rock"