Russian Circles, Blood Year (2019)–Preview Review

Are you lost on a howling, desolate, icy tundra, not knowing where you are, or even if you’re near anywhere, knowing only that you’re about to face an implacable enemy in high-tech, mortal combat? No? Good. Maybe you’re on space craft, and something’s gone wrong, and you’re hurtling in slow-mo toward some kind of seething, black-hole abyss. No, not that, either? Good.

Good, because Blood Year, the new album by the devastatingly heavy instrumental trio Russian Circles, won’t be fully released until August 2. If you’re planning any of the above adventures—or, maybe, making a score for a movie or video-game that dramatizes such scenarios—wait until early August, because, if the pre-release tracks from Blood Year are any indication, Blood Year is the soundtrack you need. It is such a buzzkill when your dark, cinematic adventures have the wrong music.

Doomy and inexorably driven, “Arluck” rests on a foundation of assertive drums and rumbling, low-tuned bass. Mike Sullivan’s guitars alternate between oscillating pulsars of looped-and-harmonized (see video breakdown below) tapped sixteenth notes and doom-thrash unions with the bass. I feel the meter alternating between a “two” feel and a “four” feel, which I think lends palpable push to the music. Toward exactly what, however, I know not. The tune ends with a cliffhanger. There is a release of tension as the drums and bass drop out, leading into a last push in which a coda theme emerges, only to return to doom-thrash mode before ending abruptly.

 “Milano,” which is the immediate successor to “Arluck,” is no less heavy than its predecessor. Somehow, however, it’s vibe is a little more human than the stricter machine-feel of “Arluck.” Perhaps this is because “Milano’s” has more sections and the drums are less precisely driving, with longer fills. Also, Sullivan’s guitars on “Milano,” while still plenty dark, sound picked, even when treated with plenty of reverb, rather than generated with delay repeats. And, there is, at least, a section during which tense, higher-register single notes that have some chime crack through the wall of slow-moving guitar doom.

It will be interesting, of course, to hear what the rest of Blood Year sounds like. If anything, the pre-release tracks suggest that the band’s heavy side, always strong, may be growing more relentless and uncompromising. There is less light in these new tracks, as compared to some selections from their earlier albums.

You can buy a digital download of Blood Year using the link below:


Check out some recent videos in which guitarist Mike Sullivan breaks down his playing on “Arluck” and his approach to looping:

Riff Rundown—Russian Circles “Arluck”

● From Premier Guitar, a tutorial on how to play a looped-and-harmonized tapping melody from “Arluck.” Very cool how Sullivan morphs a riff that sounds like the intro to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” played wrong into something awesome!

How I Create Live Loops (Russian Circles’s Mike Sullivan)

● Also from Premier Guitar, a short discussion about loop building, including some interesting advice about using tonal contrast to prevent a stack of loops from turning into a bog of mud.

©2019 Guitarete/Alan Barry

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