Review: Russian Circles – Empros
There are a series of films by director Alejandro Jodorowsky that remind me of Empros, the new album from instrumental innovators Russian Circles. The films, like this album, are filled with bizarre non-sequiturs, epic pieces that stand besides smaller parts and a feeling that so much more is going on here. Empros is a record that drives you to scratch at it again and again trying to find the core of what it revolves around. What is this? I know what it is. No I don’t, but I think maybe I can get to it if I listen again. How do I keep missing it? Why are the mysteries not handed over to me, what the hell is going on?
From the opening madness of Empros, the ideas buzzed through my brain as I attempts to breakdown and sift through all the ideas going on. Jodorowsky’s films could not be taken at face value. No matter how incredible or ridiculous the ideas became, more was going on below the surface. Russian Circles have accomplished the same thing. There is what you hear; there is the thunderous riff or the groove. There is the melancholy guitar line or the raging rhythm section. Your senses can understand that.
What lies beneath is hard to work out logically so your mind translates them to emotion. Empros is an elating musical masterpiece that makes you happy, sad, melancholy and even angry. Not for reasons as simple as the song’s structure, but because beneath that structure, the buzzing of the musical atoms drives you. This is music that makes you feel and what you feel is your mind’s own interpretation of the music.
“309” is your first taste of the coming storm. Wafting you into a false sense of security with the delicate opening notes, “309” opens up with a groove that is unstoppable. This is a nine-minute opus so Russian Circles decide to start what sounds almost like a completely different song at the three-minute mark. Instead of groove we’re met with bombastic sound, the guitars fuse into thunder as noise and riff meet. That thunder lasts for a minute before the original riff comes in, but only for another measure as the time then slows down. So much is happening all at once and yet it fits, it seamlessly paints a picture, your own picture, much the way Jodorowsky’s films do.
Then there is beauty. Real beauty. As notes dance and move in a way to make the heart ache. Imagine that girl or guy you love standing in the rain bathed by only the slightest light. That flutter in your heart, that feeling you have are the opening notes to “Mladek”. There is no sudden crash of riff; the song just opens the notes into a movement. Growing from the movement is a guitar that rings like a desperate alarm but also gives way to a funk-meets-digital bass line. The drums and bass work together for several seconds before guitars return. Right when the assault seems too much, Russian Circles calms it down, using a drum line that showcases the hi-hat, something very rare these days. Throughout the rest of “Mladek” the music plays with different textures, never moving too far from the root of the song.
“Schipol” spends six minutes as an instrumental movement that lands somewhere between classical music and melancholy Electronica. I swear in the background you can hear the ocean, or that just might be what these first minutes mean to me. The calm of the ocean at dawn, as night fades away. “Schipol” explodes from that quiet. The music blows up right in your face. There’s something very Animals era Pink Floyd in this explosion, only driven by feedback. It’s epic what the guitars are doing here, how they separate the power of a riff from the fragile notes without losing anything in the translation. Again, beneath that sound is something more and you’ll listen to this album desperately trying to figure it all out.
“Atackla” is Russian Circles trying not to scare you off. They have done so much with Empros that you need a breather. I think of it as the intermission of the album. Not in a way to indicate the song is less than its counterparts, it’s just calmer. There is a feeling of outer space, the movement of the stars as you look up through a car sunroof at night. Realistically it sounds like being high but I was trying to make it sound all flowery. The only, and I mean the only, critique I have is I would have left this song completely low key; the hugeness sounds just the tiniest bit forced.
I will go on record as saying Empros has one of the greatest final tracks ever. “Praise Be To Man” is a cross between atmospheric sound waves, a gospel prayer, a country ballad from an old 78 with just a dash of a spooky children’s song. The vocals are at once lovely and disturbing. When louder instrumentation comes in it’s not jarring at all, the crescendo is cathartic. It allows a release from all we’ve been through with Empros. It’s the end of a long journey; the passageway back to where we’re safe and exhaustion has taken over.
The musicianship involved here is above reproach. Rarely does a band so intuitively understand how instruments work together. There is no star; each part is there for a reason. It’s worked out insanity or chaos with a plan. Empros is one of the most viscerally exciting and completely entertaining albums I’ve heard in a long time. There is perfection in the air and the battle for album of the year just heated up again.
CRAVEONLINE RATING 10/10