Today, our experts weigh in on Empros – latest (and, arguably, heaviest) record from Chicago band Russian Circles.
The title of this , their fourth studio offering, is a Greek term meaning “onward”, or as they’ve put it themselves in interviews “get over it and move on”, and there is a palpable sense of progression on this release that shows the band eager to move past the “post-metal” tag they confess to abhor.
Recorded at Chicago’s Phantom Manor with Brandon Curtis again behind the production desk, the album opens with “309”, a no-nonsense, heads-down gallumphing beast of a track destined to get heads nodding furiously when aired live. Perhaps it’s the most traditional “rock” track they’ve done, but it’s a delight of no small measure and a statement of intent that seems to want to immediately affirm their rock credentials before taking us elsewhere, onwards, if you must beyond the pigeonhole they’ve found themselves in.
The next track “Mladek” is close in spirit to Producer Curtis’ Secret Machines in structure and content. Big in sound, but upbeat, positive and pretty damn danceable.”Schiphol” starts with delicate acoustic picking against a backdrop of raging, echoing guitar that culminates in a thrashed-out, yet mournful, finish. “Atackla” continues the gentle acoustic guitar work, but there’s more of an initial woozy feel to the music. This is upset by Dave Turncrantz’s exemplary powerhouse drumming that takes the tune into the stomping territory of yore. It works. “Batu” moves form introspection to something far more dramatic and it’s testament to how this band have decided to push their sound that they finish the album with the sung / sampled, hymnal “Praise Be Man”.
There’s a palpable sense of regret in this last offering that highlights the way Russian Circles have tried to move past their formidable instrumental techniques into something approaching emotional engagement. It’s a bold move and one that tops an impressive release by a great band. Empros, indeed.
I’ve always been a huge Russian Circles fan, so I was relieved, after my first listen, to hear that they weren’t throwing their audience a curveball. They’re still very much creating aggressive slabs of noise that somehow sound hopeful, anthemic, and fragile all at once, so, yeah. Phew.
If anything, they’ve made their aggressive songs even more so. Opener ‘309’ comes at you fast and furious, with squalling guitars and galloping rhythms, before settling down to a more textured, ambient soundscape that builds right back up again to jab a knife into your ribs. ‘Mladek’ begins sounding like a rough-hewn 80s pop anthem, before going to a much darker place, reminiscent of black metal’s more orchestral moments, as Chris Weingarten astutely observed.
But for all the dark on this album, there’s a lot of light, too. ‘Schiphol’ is much more sparse and tender, with plucked acoustic guitar and washes of jagged synths and feedback that get swallowed whole by a crescendo of Explosions In the Sky proportions. And closer ‘Praise Be Man’ is absolutely spellbinding. Radio transmissions, folk singing, thick, distorted bass, and chords drenched in reverb all contribute to a supremely satisfying climax where beauty and aggression co-exist perfectly.
This is a good one, folks. It will wound you, move you, and make you want to do pushups on the corpse of your greatest enemy.
The first spin of Russian Circles’ Empros didn’t tickle my fancy. Maybe it was the shitty speakers I was listening through, or maybe I was too busy concentrating on my work to give it an honest opinion. But subsequent plays kept me interested, noticing more about the band with each strum of the guitar or hit of a cymbal. Good sign.
Opening with the track “309 “ fires off the album with a resounding shot, and away we go into galloping construction of rhythm. Adding more sludge and distortion along the way takes the tempo down just a notch, but that certainly doesn’t detract from the serious devotion to layering this band offers up. The melodic “Mladek” splinters off into a somewhat happier tempo to start but continues the aural assault with a chugging second half that complements the lighter nature of its opening.
One of the finest moments on the album is the abrupt transition from light to dark on “Schipol.” Lulling you into a false sense of security for a few minutes, the track smacks you in the head with a blast of sound that brings you back down to Earth and into “Atackla.” Now this is where it starts to get REALLY good.
The incredibly lush and textured “Batu” that follows is, for my money, easily the standout on Empros. There is depth and power and bombast—three elements that sit at the forefront of what heavy music has to offer. It might be the best track on the album, but it’s also where the album should end. Empros’ final track, “Praise Be Man,” feels awkward and out of place, especially considering the finality of its predecessor. And the addition of vocals to a vocal-less album kind of detracts from the conversation the music was already able to hold without them. Not a bad composition by any means, but it doesn’t represent a proper ending to an otherwise cohesive release. B side, perhaps?
Overall, Empros is a welcome addition to the music library of heavy music and instrumental fans alike. Worth some spins, for sure.