It must be a sign of my own rapidly advancing age but I can scarcely believe that it has been three whole years since we last had music from Chicago’s Russian Circles. The speed at which times move, it is sometimes difficult to take stock. For one though, it is lovely news to have them back.
This is Russian Circles seventh full-length release and its strengths are obvious and immediate. Shorn of pretense, packed full of ideas and vigour, this is the most direct record Russian Circles have ever produced. In a nod to the old adage that less is more, Blood Year (Sargent House) arrives fully formed, does its thing and then disappears almost as energetically as it arrived. Its seven tracks and its forty minutes pass by in what seems like the blink of an eye.
Opening track ‘Hunter Moon’ is an atmospheric, moody soundscape, inviting the listener to create mental images of impending doom and foreboding. It is akin to an aural trailer for the full album “movie” that follows; ‘Arluck’s’ arrival two or so minutes later is something of a shock; its sparse, angular and rhythmic flourishes contrasting markedly with the preceding piece. ‘Milano’ takes the band up a gear, the pounding and incessant riffing pulling the listener inexorably into the band’s taught vortex; ‘Kohokiaa’s’ skeletal structures add a dark brooding menace to a tempered and fuzzy template that is compelling and compellingly unnerving; Ghost on High’s temporary pause for breath, thought and reflection effectively acts as the intermission before we are thrust headlong into the less than benevolent clutches of ‘Sinaia’ which is one of those seven-minute plus excursions that this band are so renowned and execute upon so effortlessly. ‘Sinaia’ builds and builds across its first arc, delivering us an accomplished exercise in aural power. Rarely does being beaten around the head feel so welcome and powerful. The record ends with ‘Quartered’ which has echoes of Gojira and Pelican: a staccato riffing pounding your cerebellum into completely expected submission.
And there you have it. Blood Year succeeds not simply because it is a distillation of many of the things that Russian Circles do so well (although it is most assuredly that); more, it succeeds because it does not falsely invoke the epic, the pretentious or profligate. This is a record that is sharp and focussed, precise and deliberate. It sounds neither forced nor arch: it is energised and, on occasion, life-affirmingly joyous.
8 / 10