Memorial Review

artist: Russian Circles date: 10/31/2013 category: compact discs
Russian Circles: Memorial
Released: Oct 29, 2013
Genre: Post-Metal, Post-Rock, Instrumental
Label: Sargent House
Number Of Tracks: 8
This album, while well-crafted, fails to give the surreal experience that is expected from this band and genre of music.
 Sound: 8
 Lyrics: 8
 Overall Impression: 7
 Overall rating:
 Reviewer rating:
 Users rating:
reviews (2) pictures (1) 22 comments vote for this album:
overall: 5.7
Memorial Featured review by: UG Team, on october 31, 2013
1 of 9 people found this review helpful

Sound: 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. // 6

Lyrics: 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. // 6

Overall Impression: 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." // 5

- Parker Abt (c) 2013

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overall: 9.7
Memorial Reviewed by: sbriggs31, on august 25, 2016
1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Sound: This is my first review so bear with me. After seeing the poor review of "Memorial" I felt compelled to create my own review especially since I listen to post-rock and post-metal on a consistent basis. How I stumbled into these genres was by my love for instrumentals by bands such as Thrice, Deftones, Radiohead, and Dream Theater. Pandora opened a whole new world for me, along with Explosions in the Sky on the "Friday Night Lights" soundtrack sealed the deal for me. Back to the review though.

The sound is absolutely astonishing on this album, where the "Memoriam" and "Memorial" are two equally ethereal tracks that give you the eerie feeling of loss, grief, and acceptance in the very end. What I love about these two songs the most is that rather than going with their cookie-cutter sound that many fans are used to, they dissemble their layers and simplify their sound to create an atmosphere that the listener can relate with. As bassist Brian Cook stated, "We wanted to make a record with more extreme peaks and valleys. I'm hoping that we can get away with making a schizophrenic record." So with tracks such as "Memoriam," "Memorial," and "Cheyenne," they bring you into their atmospheric valleys that convey a feeling of comfort, yet acknowledging the loss and grief I mentioned before. It almost seems that "Memoriam" and "Cheyenne" both bring to the forefront that something is inherently wrong, and is taking the listener to the climatic end which is "Memorial" (which is in my opinion, the best song on the album).

While these 3 songs strip down into acoustic elements, eerie tones, delay and simple notes, and orchestral touches, Russian Circles does an excellent job of kicking ass on the heavier tunes or the "extreme peaks" where their grooves, astounding rhythms, and even some tapping on "Ethel" bring you into the heavier side of the album. "Lebaron" to me stands out the most, which with it's distorted riffage right up front gives me a feeling of the opening to a battle or a huge climatic event that is about to happen. The swells then dig right into the body of the song, followed by a slow build of riffs that bring you closer to the focal point of the song, led by a faster tempo of the beginning intro riff that should get any metal head headbanging. "1777" is a close second where the tremolo picking around 4 minutes really gets me waiting for that killer ending where the melody just polishes off that build up and creates an ending that is almost uplifting. I have to say the drums on this album is by far the clincher for what really stands out in my mind. While I love the guitar riffs and the fact they aren't overly technical, and the bass is killer especially in "Ethel," I find the drums to be what drives the album in terms of setting the landscape. Dave Turncrantz does a hell of a job. But I wouldn't take anything away from the rest of the band, as I think all of their efforts are presently greatly here, and create an overall sound and theme for that album that is highly memorable and aggressive with the highs and lows of the musical composition.

Overall, what gets me on this album is how connected each song is whether it's the title or the sound. I would argue that the heavier songs on this album are supposed to invite feelings of rage, anger, and the bitterness one can experience when going through stages of grief. The softer songs I would say draw attention to those moments where you feel lost, but know that it will get better as the album treads towards, where you finally reach acceptance at the end. As someone who lost their Mom on New Year's this year, I've been going through these stages and while I loved the album before she passed away, I grew to appreciate the album even more because I found myself relating with it more, especially the ending track "Memorial." Must listens: "Memorial," "Lebaron," "1777." // 10

Lyrics: While the previous reviewer decided to rate the lyrics even when the purpose of this album is to allow the listener to enjoy the songs without lyrics, I would say the ending track "Memorial" really stands out in the Russian Circles catalog because while they have done songs such as "Xavii" and "Hexed All," this song takes their softer side to a whole new level. Chelsea Wolfe's vocals are amazing and truly bring the spacey, ethereal side out that give you that haunting, yet comforting feeling that the album is drawing to a close. This song because of my recent experiences really gets to me at times and definitely reminds me of my memories and my loss of my mother.

"I cannot say what years have come and gone.
I only know the silence - it breathed on and in.
What sang in me sings no more.
Where stood a wild heart stirred no more.
There stood wild heart.
And I have been slain.
Head full of ghosts tonight.
Have I gone insane?

Was it wrong to go down.
To want you to stay?
Head full of ghosts tonight.
Have I gone insane?"

Interpret as you will, but definitely sounds like a song about loss and acceptance right away, as the track is titled "Memorial." // 10

Overall Impression: Overall I find this album to be possibly my favorite by Russian Circles. I love all of their work, and maybe I'm bias because I can relate with this effort more, but I find that this album with it's high points and acoustic laden tracks that it brings a nice blend to their music that in my eyes. "Memorial" is a great concept album based by the overarching theme and leaves me wanting more. And that's just it, I wish there was maybe a track or two more to this album but because it's crafted well I don't know if that would make it better or not. I highly recommend to anyone that is looking for a blend of post-rock and post-metal that has an appreciation for melodic soundscapes. // 9

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