Perhaps one of the most exciting bands out there at the moment, Russian Circles‘ sophomore effort represents a valiant overcoming of many trials and tribulations. ‘Enter’, their debut was a fantastic slice of instrumental music, and one that said no to the majority of instrumental stuff out there by being hard rocking, damn catchy, and without any namby-pamby instruments, more akin to Don Cabellero than Red Sparowes. But with the departure of one of the founding members, bassist Colin DeKuiper, and the arrival of his subsequent replacement, Brian Cook (from the great These Arms Are Snakes, as well as a few other genre defining bands) it was always going to be interesting how things were set to change.
Rest assured, Russian Circles have not rested upon their laurels, and in Station have created a completely different album compared to their last effort. First track Campaign is a slow, melodic build up that acts as a calm introduction before the storm of Harper Lewis. It doesn’t really go anywhere, patiently building up to a climax that never comes, but floats along before subsiding to a key change, with Mike Sullivan‘s calm, muted fret wanderings creating a beautifully soft effect that entrances you.
Things then fade out into Harper Lewis which immediately stands out after the slow pace of the intro, Dave Turncrantz pounding his drums with a resolute power as Brian Cook makes his first standout moment with a deliciously evil bassline that rattles the speakers. Layered over this is Sullivan’s drawn out high notes, that pierce the whole song. It is a myriad of ideas that all combine together, going from soft to heavy, intricate to simple but never once losing its power. Just as they know how to do so well, it all builds up and up before overflowing into a brilliant burst of furious fills and guitar meanderings.
Title track Station moves along at a terrifically bouncy pace, almost rivalling Battles‘ Atlas for sheer fun, which is odd given the dark bassline, but Turncrantz‘s drum rolls just fill the song with an irresistible groove. Things pause for a brief respite midway through before letting out another burst of energy and power that could force a nation to stamp its feet on the ground, just wishing they could sound as good as Turncrantz. It’s a wonderful track that goes from a drunken dance to sober serious, with some guitar picking that sounds very reminiscent of Efrim Menuch‘s technique in Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but is invariably Sullivan’s own.
Verses however showcases a much more patient opening, with drawn out notes layered over a deep, unsettling bass that nearly caused my subwoofer to break. Then out of nowhere comes this beautiful guitar tone that sounds gorgeously sweet to the ears. Despite the risk of boredom with this kind of angle, the drumming injects the necessary pace to keep the song alive, and there is a vast variety in Sullivan‘s picked notes that keep it all fresh and interesting. Things do not say so understated for long, with another epic climax brought about, the guitar loud and clear, acting almost like a call to arms to whomever might be listening.
As Verses rattles to a close, Youngblood instantly picks things up again with familiar high pitched guitar picking, and once again the drums prove themselves to be the shot of heroin in the song, as they punctuate the crisp guitar work of both Cook and Sullivan. It’s a haunting track, that speeds along with a dangerous motive, dark and evocative. Chainsaw-like riffs make this the heaviest track on the album, as Sullivan moves things along at a pace that barely gives you time to take in what has happened, before the song has changed tactics again. It is right here that the trio really come together, and you start to feel that Cook was just the right man for the job as the climax of the song builds up, layer over layer, one part never superseding another until things can go nowhere else and the song slowly eases itself into Stations‘ swan song.
The closer Xaavi is also the shortest track on the album, at a modest four and a half minutes long. There’s a strange element of the Wild West infused into the music, a lonely riff that embodies the image of one lone ranger walking off into the sunset. Despite the addition of keyboards in this track, nothing really takes away the focus on Sullivan‘s isolated guitar work, with even Turncrantz’s drumming taking a step back from the limelight. And then for one final time, the threesome all come together again, drums growing louder, bass rumbling below and the guitars beckoning you to fall into their world one more time, and as it builds and builds your anticipation is shot when things just end, almost as if Russian Circles have offered you the meaning of life, and then taken it away with a knowing wink.
Station is a different album from Enter, make no bones about it. It showcases a more patient side to the band, and whether this is a natural development or down to Cook‘s introduction is a topic up for debate. But although Station doesn’t immediately come across as a ‘better’ album than Enter, it is certainly a much more slickly crafted one, rich with layers that you’ll keep on discovering upon every listen. It’s deeper, not as shallow as to give into cheap temptations, and it’s all the better for it. A definite grower, and if this is just a station on Russian Circles‘ journey then I cannot wait for where the train is set to take us next.