Russian Circles - Blood Year | Album Review

Approximately 15 year’s following their initial inception, it’s difficult to visualise the post metal scene without the presence or influence of Russian Circles. Following their formation in the early 21st century, the post metal juggernauts arose to prominence due to their collective dynamism, texture rich soundscapes and flawless utilisation of atmospherics. Every release thus far has gardened nothing but acclaim and praise, with their last respective release, 2016’s Guidance, being hailed for it’s phenomenal ambience and contrast between sonic luxurious beauty and narcotic dread.

As predicated, the group’s upcoming offering Blood Year is set to continue this unbroken streak of excellence. However, if Guidance was an exploration of different textures and soundscapes, Blood Year is nothing less than a cold statement of authority, with the release standing to be Russian Circles’ most direct, focused and imposing work to date.

Blood Year is a harrowing return to the group’s apocalyptic and traumatically ashen facade of their past material but with an even greater emphasis on intensity, deafening timbre and dread. The introductory and minimalistic melancholia of ‘Hunter Moon’ perfectly establishes the blanketing and suffocating atmosphere of Blood Year, with the following ‘Arluck’ only further intensifying such sonic asphyxiation through the means of ever thickening and claustrophobic low end chugging, tightly controlled noise patterns and possessed, almost ritualistic percussion.

To say that Blood Year ushers in it’s atmospheric dread would be an understatement. The entire release as a whole is a record of looming hostility and enveloping contortion, with each consecutive track on the release only consecutively escalating such trepidation. The third movement on this release, ‘Milano’ only embiggens the forlorn aura with it’s glacial drone, callous shoegaze and borderline gothic and macabre distortion. It’s here we get our initial insight into the visceral harshness of Blood Year, with the track swelling rapidly until it blossoms into a high speed barrage of intense dissonance.

In comparison to the group’s most recent releases, where their material was crafted over by the group digitally sending pieces of tracks between each other over long distances, Blood Year was constructed and initially tracked as a collective unit in a single room, with the group approaching the creation of the record as they would approach a live performance. A monumental task, given the fact that each member of the trio resides in different states within the US but the endeavour was clearly worth any logistical trouble. Whilst Russian Circles are renowned for their ability to weave intricate soundscapes together seemingly without effort or direct force, Blood Year beats and breathes with organic fluidity and with a living, human pulse.

The reverberating drone and almost crystalline aural leads of ‘Kohokla’ embody this statement. The track, and indeed, album as a whole, snakes through cavernous canyons of distortion and intoxicating ambience with seemingly effortless ease. Blood Year, much like it’s predecessors doesn’t sound like it was structured on a computerised grid of the course of months. It feels like it was interweaved and painted in real time, a living breathing soundscape of organic and deeply atmospheric dynamism.

While the group has always, if not mostly, incorporated elements of ethereal beatify and tender respite into their craft, Blood Year is mostly absent of such things. There are moments of quiet reflection, such as with the timid ‘Hunter Moon’ and the reprising ‘Ghost On High’, to call such monuments a chance of respite would be a lie. These are nothing more than periods of withdrawn fear, glimpses of cold comfort that only serve to intensify the suffocating harrow and to amplify the violent barrages of sound.

‘Sinaia’ weaponises black metal drone and darkened hues of blackgaze for phenomenal and dramatic effect but yet the album’s true nature comes to light with the guttural and venomously barbed ‘Quartered’. Savage and relentless, the track extinguishes any remaining hope of warmth and tranquillity within this release. A bestial bassline fights for supremacy with a hissing serpent of a riff, with such a battle being soundtracked by screeching and shrieking distortion and oscillation. It’s a predatory and inhumanly cold finale to an album that aims and succeeds in conjuring emotions of overwhelmingly harrowing anxiety and forlorn, forsaken anguish.

In all, Blood Year is undoubtedly Russian Circles most authentically chilling and atmospherically desolate offering to date. It’s an album devoid of light and positivity, with the group casting out such elements for dread, loathing and devastating. Yet, being multilayered and deeply textured, Blood Year is concrete evidence that beauty can be found in utter desolation.

Score: 8/10

Blood Year is Out August 2nd via Sargent House Records