Instantly becoming aware of a sudden, swelling mass, our ears translate its sound as a crescendo of vast cosmic breeze, the subtle pulsating delay of six strings and underlying cymbals projecting the construction forward.
Segueing into a four count of drumsticks after enough suspense is produced, the recording now erupts with all the lumbering menace and psychedelia of a doom metal Pink Floyd as ‘Deficit’, track one. The aforementioned seismic groove now halts to a snare in climax with a spacey and fuzzy riff and into an off-kilter polyrhythm as things ebb and flow to slide into a tight, muscular interlude. The floor now completely gives way, plunging into the filthy and gloom-laden grind of ground-shaking amplified distortion.
So begins Russian Circles’ debut live album Live At Dunk! Fest, a 9-track effort recorded in Zottegem, Belgium in May 2016. In taking their careful time to ensure absolute mastery over a unique creative vision, such artistic confidence definitely helped the fact that the band were unaware of this live album being made. As the pressure of consciously being recorded is removed, we now have the purest representation of a Russian Circles show.
To prove the infinite expression to be found within the instrumental realm, no voices are to be heard for the entire performance. Instead, whole other environments are conjured from the hands of three men, ensuring a universal appeal with no barriers of language. Varying prevalent suggestions of joyous freedom, great unknowing, cosmic suspense, and otherworldly ambience are fully imposed. In such tracks as the brilliant ‘Afrika’, all these described feelings are utterly inescapable. A shimmering guitar pattern winds its way on a triumphant galactic journey before a rocky descent into uneasy and suspenseful chords to find itself returned to its previous trajectory. The primal percussive might of drummer Dave Turncrantz introduces the succeeding ‘Harper Lewis’ on its unpredictable, winding way shortly after, before the next eight minutes continue to expand through passages of immensely detailed, kaleidoscopic grandeur.
Exhibiting the controlled tonal expression of classical virtuosos, Russian Circles are masters of playing cinematically, evoking more subconscious feelings than many dense paragraphs of eloquent prose might ever induce. These are risk-taking aural environments. Almost all pieces indefinably blend into each other as layers are constantly stripped away, developed or redesigned. Each member is occasionally allowed a position in the spotlight, such as with bassist Brian Cook’s dark rumbling interlude in ‘Geneva’. The communal elation of actually bearing witness to the show’s production may have diluted the music’s emotional heft, as we come across some genuinely chilling moments on the resulting album. Regardless of format, we’re all happily trapped in this conceptual journey as we are led through many moments of artistic zenith in Live At Dunk! Fest. Pieces ‘1777’ and ‘Mládek’ are highlights for the rest of the album, with final track ‘Youngblood’s euphoric rock patterns, tense climaxing, and crushing expansiveness exhibiting such a level of heaviness that Russian Circles were allowed to play support to such acts as Electric Wizard in shows last year. As my words attempt to do justice to the indefinable, such is the nature of Russian Circles’ Live At Dunk! Fest. Simply listen to it, and experience its complete escapism for yourself. Fantastic.
- Harper Lewis