Russian Circles


I am currently excited about two American heavy rock bands who, before this month, haven’t released a single word in over a decade. But while Tool have just brought out their first new material since 2007, Chicago three-piece Russian Circles have gone on from the departure of their original bass player in that same year to release seven albums including 2019’s Blood Year, which they are currently touring.

Oh, I said “not a word”? Russian Circles are totally instrumental, really heavy shoegaze rock. They’re not like much else I listen to – and I’m not sure there is really very much out there of the same oeuvre – certainly not of the same quality. The purely instrumental approach has an interesting dynamic on their albums, which don’t always reach out and grab you and can even fade into the background if you’re not listening actively – but they have a real knack of drawing me in and are hugely absorbing, heavy and varied. The dynamic is equally interesting at a live show but there is no chance of Russian Circles fading into the background tonight; right from the off, the snare beats a startlingly loud introduction and the music does the talking.

Despite (or perhaps because) there is no vocal to latch on to, no lyrics to distract from the music, and no interaction on a social level – the show is captivating and hypnotic from the off. It’s easy to get lost in the music and the audience is rapt, eyes front, hardly talking… obviously nobody can sing along.

Guitar player Mike Sullivan makes judicious use of a loop pedal where some of the songs have been multi-tracked in the studio, and uses it well. Bass player Brian Cook has a keyboard setup for atmospheric intros. Drummer Dave Turncrantz really loves to smash his kit, although he is skilful and engaging, if not overly technical; he manages numerous changes of pace well. Russian Circles achieve an impressively awesome sound for a three piece. They are tight and together and create and explore different sounds in a very together way.

While a lot of the music is really very heavy rock, without getting into grinding metal at any point, some of the segments are actually pretty rousing with a major-key, stadium rock vibe. At their lightest, Russian Circles are a little like the heavier side of Foo Fighters, The Walkmen and Dredg; often when it gets heavier, it’s reminiscent of early Killswitch Engage and Sepultura.

There is no rush to tonight’s set, but it’s not so much relaxed as paced – there is no rush to chain songs together or drop them quickly but there is no time wasted, and no “dead air”. There are lots of tuning breaks between songs, filled with atmospheric noise. We get songs from various different albums, but the title track from 2008’s Station goes down really well and gets the biggest response of the night.

Just as I am wondering whether Russian Circles will keep up this level of performance for the whole two hours to curfew, they leave the stage after 70 intense minutes, no encore, no goodbye – they just smash it and leave, but I don’t think anyone is left disappointed after what was a great performance of some choice highlights from what is now an extensive and hugely impressive back catalogue.

Russian Circles: Official | Facebook | Twitter

Chris Oliver

I've been playing bass guitar and guitar for over half my life. I last played bass in in a band called Electromotive and as a singer-songwriter I have written songs about cheese and vajazzles (separate songs!). I started out listening to 60s, 70s and 80s rock as a kid and I was in to grunge and U.S. punk and ska in the 90s. Since then, I've broadened my tastes and I like the best of all styles of music, even country. I've been writing for Silent Radio since it started.