Those who have been through long bouts of grief and doubt know how easy it is to become over-identified by it. From those cruel dreams that leave you breathless and sweaty in the night, to those moments of deja vu that connect you with a loved person, situation or lost train of thought.
Personally, 2016 has been a year of endings and beginnings. Marked by the death of too many loved ones, some of my biggest idols and established thought patterns—it has been a harsh rebirth I did not want, nor was prepared for.
Everyone goes through this some time in their life. And when you hit that point, it is hard to find the simple joy in anything. Just experiencing basic emotions, in any normal sense, is a constant battle.
There are so many experiences that go beyond words. And the way your subconscious connects with certain pieces of music during these periods of tribulation is definitely one of them. It’s a primal association; a kindred spiritual relation that hits you deep in your gut.
The sixth studio album from Russian Circles, Guidance, taught me to feel again. A journey in itself, this release is not only the heaviest from this Chicago-based instrumental trio—but it is also their most multi-faceted to date.
Revealing a rich kaleidoscope of internal inspiration, what really drives this offering is just how uplifting it is. Fluid and beautiful in every conceivable sense from start-to-finish, Guidance pulls you down to the point of no return before showing you there is always a ‘light’—even ecstatic highs—just on the horizon.
Opener Asa slowly seeps in; it’s serene tones evading a warmth and unassuming comfort that doesn’t hint at the odyssey to come. The encroaching tom work from Dave Turncrantz forces its way through, signalling the start of the descent on second track, Vorel. Harsh and unrelenting, guitarist Mike Sullivan shows just how deep this pit goes—using cascading, even black metal, rhythms as his guide.
Mota brings you up momentarily for air, hinting at these euphoric highs. Led by Turncrantz and bassist Brian Cook, nervous energy builds into turbulent post-rock—showing just how easily the tides can turn. All of this mounts to highlight, Afrika. Dipping and diving between points of wistfulness and metallic indecision, this peaks in a melting pot of melody between Sullivan and well-placed bass additions from Cook—amidst a tom and half-time cymbal groove on the kit.
Stopping the album dead in tracks, a silent breath is taken before the slow and glimmering haze of Overboard slowly rises. Achieving a balancing effect in what is a powerful and surging release, this point offers a slight reprieve before dropping sharply into the cutting riffs of Calla. Haunting and all-consuming, closer Lisboa is a meandering and uneasy ending—rising to optimistic notes, but overall hinting at the fear and anxiety of an uncertain future.
Guidance, an aptly titled release from Russian Circles, is not only their most crushing offering—but it is their most self-assured and honest release to date. And it is a prime example of how depicting the full scale of emotional responses often goes beyond words.