Russian Circles

Russian Circles

Chelsea Wolfe, Marriages

Fri, August 17, 2012

Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:30 pm

Union Transfer

Philadelphia, PA

Facebook comments:

Russian Circles
Russian Circles
At the end of 2014, Chicago trio Russian Circles celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their first show. A decade is a long time for any band to persevere, let alone a band that mines the relatively unmarketable niche of protracted instrumental dirges. But whereas many bands on the louder end of the rock-based instrumental world are content to work within the confines of the crescendos and washed-out timbres laid out by their predecessors, Russian Circles persistently expand their creative boundaries by working with a wider swath of sounds and structures. In many ways, their last album Memorial was a fitting cap to that first decade; it was an elegy to the past, a token of remembrance to the aural explorations of the band’s formative years. It encompassed the many facets of the band’s catalog: harrowing gloom, cinematic majesty, primitive bludgeonings, bittersweet dexterity, and morose minimalism.

With their sixth album Guidance, Russian Circles carry on in their quest to conjure multi-dimensional dramatic instrumental narratives and to scout out new textures from their respective instruments. Songs aren’t constructed out of highbrow concepts; they’re forged out of gut instinct and base emotional response. Nor was the band—as is often the case with artists later in their career—interested in testing their fans’ patience or securing a new broader audience with a radical reinvention. Instead, Russian Circles use Guidance to continue examining the polarity of quiet and loud, complexity and simplicity, ugliness and beauty. Every Russian Circles album has had its share of new sonic vistas, and Guidance finds the band still searching out new sounds while continuing to play to the collective strengths of guitarist Mike Sullivan, drummer Dave Turncrantz, and bassist Brian Cook. Starting with the meditative restraint of album opener “Asa”, Guidance sets off on a path of metallic savagery (“Vorel”, “Calla”), arpeggio tectonics (“Mota”), mercurial anthems (“Afrika”), somber segues (“Overboard”), and seismic Americana noir (“Lisboa”). With the help of engineer/co-producer Kurt Ballou and his God City Studio, Russian Circles were able to capture this broad tonal palette and wide array of emotional motifs into a cohesive journey through the tumultuous corners of human existence.

We often expect artists to fall into patterns and formulas, but for Russian Circles the creative method is still a mystery. Songs develop at their own pace. Inspiration comes from strange sources. If anything, the process of writing is every bit the enigma it was back when the band crafted their first song in 2004. Life itself is a struggle with the unknown and a search for meaning, and the creative process for Russian Circles has mirrored that pursuit. The radical dynamic shifts and straightforward production of Enter, the lockstep metallic attack and pensive comedowns of Station, the symphonic grandeur of Geneva, the grit and grime of Empros, and the oscillation between melancholy and wrath on Memorial were all incremental steps towards an ideal, and Guidance brings the band that much closer to that realization. In the interim between albums, a veteran handed off an envelope of war photos to the spouse of a band member. The photos depicted a man being led to his execution. There was no context for the traumatic scenes, no history, no background. Yet the dignity this anonymous figure exuded in his fatalistic march resonated with the band. Here was someone that knew his fate and marched boldly towards his destiny. The band used these photos for the Guidance album art, knowing that we all march towards our own conclusions, and we can only hope that we face our futures with the same honor and nobility. If the band’s fourth album Empros (Greek translation: Onward) was a statement of perseverance, Guidance became a statement of striding into the future undeterred by what lies ahead.

Guidance comes out August 5th on Sargent House. The album is available on vinyl and CD, as well in all standard digital formats.
Chelsea Wolfe
Chelsea Wolfe
How often nowadays do we read of an artist’s “intensity”, or their rhetorical, one-of-a-kind individuality? Journalistic hyperbole routinely contorts the mundane into the “epic”, the tired into the inspired, all the while heaping praise on performers as seemingly vacuous and generic as possible. Navigating the landscape of contemporary alternative music can be an exercise in redundancy; true visionaries and boundary-pushers are few and far between. Enter Chelsea Wolfe. To simply call Wolfe unique would be an understatement. Even among her peers in the so-called “drone-metal-art-folk” scene she’s an icon, a stand-alone singer/songwriter whose fully-formed aesthetic and haunting timelessness appear almost without effort.

Originally hailing from Northern California, Wolfe’s formative years were spent tinkering in her country musician father’s home studio, crafting “Casio-based gothy R&B” songs. For years, however, she lacked the confidence to share her creations. Then, in 2009, an overseas excursion as part of a nomadic performance troupe ignited her passion for performing and initiated a renewed interest in writing and recording. A year later she emerged with a breathtaking debut album, 2010′s The Grime & The Glow, immediately establishing herself as the focal point in a wave of new artists intent on blurring the lines between established alt-rock memes. Marrying the gentle intimacy of folk, the atmospheric voodoo of death rock, and the bleak, sullen nihilism of black metal, Wolfe’s sound effectively cast a genre all her own: a cavernous rumble, marked by stuttering drums, ethereal synths, and a wash of guitar, all very much in the service of one of the most hypnotic, celestial voices in modern music.

In 2011, Wolfe relocated to Los Angeles and recorded her second album, Apokalypsis, which was subsequently met with critical adoration. In 2012, she signed with L.A.-based Sargent House and released Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs, less an “unplugged” digression than an exploration of the sonic possibilities afforded by peeling-back some of what makes her characteristic sound so lush. The results, as NPR’s All Songs Considered noted, are “every bit as ethereal and haunting as past work that mines the darkness of artists like Burzum and Leonard Cohen in one breath”. On the heels of the acoustic album, Wolfe released an EP of covers by the enigmatic anarcho-punk band, Rudimentary Peni, entitled Prayer for the Unborn. This out-of-left-field development served not only to illustrate Wolfe’s artistic solidarity with some of underground music’s most fringe elements, but also to underscore her single-minded commitment to her vision, and nobody else’s.

Now, in 2013, Chelsea Wolfe is set to unveil her third studio album, Pain is Beauty. A self-described love letter to nature, many of the album’s 12 tracks veer in a decidedly more electronic direction than previous recordings, while at the same time capitalizing on Wolfe’s trademark penchant for the morose and otherworldly. As she explains, the album “becomes an exploration of ancestry, how the mythology, landscapes and traditions of our ancestors affect our personalities today.” She continues, “Honesty is what initially drew me to music, and I’ve been more honest and open with myself than ever through these songs. There is peace in truth. There is clarity in solitude. And there is power within simplicity and focus. Love is not always easy. Tormented love is something I understand more than society’s skewed idea of what love should be. Love is indelible, severe, earnest, merciful. To push forward against the odds is to make history”.

Fleshed-out by bandmates Ben Chisholm (Wolfe’s co-producer), Kevin Dockter, and Dylan Fujioka, Pain is Beauty’s dozen tracks form a coherent whole which never lingers too long in any one territory. Aptly-titled opening track “Feral Love” circles the listener, brooding with measured severity, its imminent threat instead surrendering to an encompassing swell which just as quickly retreats into silence. The plodding dirge of the brief “We Hit a Wall” soon gives way to the sinuous electronica of “House of Metal”, whose fairytale keyboard and synthetic strings provide a purpose-driven sense of tranquility amongst the strangeness of nature. “The Warden” continues this theme, it’s flittering shards of syncopated minimalist pop a crystalline canvas for Wolfe’s mesmerizing croon. “Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter” is a swinging, reverb-readied anthem, it’s relentless “Who’s that girl/use that gun” chorus over almost as soon as it begins. “Sick” feels heavy by comparison, despite the total absence of percussion, its breathy minimalism giving way to the uplifting refrain “we carry on.” The album’s most overtly political track, “Kings,” is a buzzing examination of the status quo, bookended by “Reins”, whose waxing forward-pull effectively channels an atmosphere reminiscent of the darkest of early eighties’ post-punk all the while exploring the concept of closeness from times past to modern days: “These horses, they pull me…these wires, they pull me…to you.” Next, “Ancestors, the Ancients”, an impassioned plea to “holy ancestors” amid a swooning, heady mixture of thundering drums and understated guitar. The following track, “They’ll Clap When You’re Gone”, finds Wolfe at her most vulnerable. “I carry a heaviness like a mountain”, she confesses. Track eleven, “The Waves Have Come”, unfurls itself methodically, pushing past the 8-minute mark (whereas the other tracks hover around 3-4 minutes). A heartbreaking story of love, loss and death in a natural disaster, Wolfe’s lyrics provide a poignant summation of themes prevalent across the album: “We don’t need physical things to make us feel and make us dream. When earth cracks open and swallows then we’ll never be tired again, and we’ll be given everything the moment we realize we’re not in control”. Album closer “Lone” provides a tentative parting of ways necessitated by the formalities of physical media. “When the sorrow is all gone”, breathes Wolfe, “it is buried in the sun”.

Chelsea Wolfe makes records that transcend time, avoid pigeonholing, and most importantly, allow a glimpse into the soul of a true visionary. Her work is free of the contrivances of lesser artists, the trivial “concepts” and pandering for attention at any cost. Hers is a dignified way of doing things, proven without any doubt by the sheer quality of her work. Pain is Beauty presents not so much an auditory experience as it does an encompassing atmosphere with which the listener can surround themselves, a soul-stirring link with infinity.
Marriages
Marriages
Marriages is a new band featuring Greg Burns (Red Sparowes), Emma Ruth Rundle (Red Sparowes / Nocturnes)
Venue Information:
Union Transfer
1026 Spring Garden St.
Philadelphia, PA, 19123