Russian Circles @ Electric Ballroom

29th October 2013
Review & Photography by Jo Moolenschot

Tonight Russian Circles grace the stage of the Electric Ballroom for their London date of their UK tour to promote their brand new album Memorial (released through Sargent House and produced by Brandon Curtis) and it just so happens that it falls on the exact official date of the album’s release. This of course means the audience may not have had a chance to be familiar with new material likely to be performed tonight but even so the fans filling up the Electric Ballroom this evening know based on the bands back catalogue of 4 brilliant albums they are in safe hands.

Unfortunately what I wasn’t aware of until I arrived is that Russian Circles were co-headlining this tour with the unique sounding Californian singer / songwriter Chelsea Wolfe. As I was delayed getting to the gig I missed an opportunity to photograph her playing live but I watched the second part of her set which I enjoyed immensely.

[Photo by Krist Mort, Austria]
[Photo by Krist Mort, Austria]

Her music is a hauntingly dark hybrid of different alternative genres including drone, metal and folk but the outstanding factor is her incredibly smooth and emotive voice which is slightly reminiscent of PJ Harvey and This Mortal Coil.

There was a full venue already taking in Ms Wolfe when I arrived and she left the stage to a very satisfied cheer from the audience.
Chicago based instrumental rock/metal trio Russian Circles appeared on stage shortly after and opened their set with Turncrantz performing a steady and dramatic drum beat which gradually after building just the right amount of tension suddenly launches in to the crushing 309 off previous album ‘Empros’.
Anyone who knows anything about Russian Circles is that watching them live is all about losing yourself in their sound and witnessing how they piece together their moody and changeable soundscapes from weighty, earth trembling stretches of chugging dramatic sections to softer dreamier passages of melancholy and everything in between making every song a story.
Tonight they link all the tracks together with no silence between them, instead filling the gaps with long standing notes and controlled feedback.
This takes us on one complete sonic journey to some place different to a substandard rock / metal concert full of clichés. They choose to add to their mystery even more by not even once addressing the audience verbally and playing the set largely cloaked in darkness (which unfortunately made my photographic duties completely impossible!).
The band went on to perform a powerful set of songs including at least one favourite from each of their albums including 3 fantastic tracks from new album Memorial including song Deficit off the new album. This song features a galloping rhythm for which this band is well-known and it gets the crowd headbanging along.
Frequently on various tracks the band provide long spates of subdued atmospheric wailing guitar which gradually develop into fantastic rumbling rhythms and in turn build up in to a climatic crashing moments. The bass and drums on Carpe create such a strong resonating feeling in my chest it’s almost scary and people in the crowd can’t help but cheer as they feel uplifted by its power. Geneva and Schiphol are begun with long build ups and greeted with whistles form the audience as soon as they are recognised.
There’s virtually no interaction between the members of the band with each person seemingly playing in isolation but knowing exactly their role in the sound. It’s as if they don’t need to communicate at all, each musician knows their part and the rest is felt intuitively between the members.
Following the dramatic and chuggy sudden end of Mladek the stage cuts to complete black to big applause and the band surprise us by returning to perform an encore with co-headliner Chelsea Wolfe who in fact, I discover later, features on the new album. They play the title track with her in almost total darkness, only just being able to make out barely defined silhouettes, but her voice cuts through the blackness and lends a layer to their music many surely have not witnessed before and it is utterly beautiful. It’s an unexpected manoeuvre from Russian Circles but their layered dreamier kind of sound blends with Wolfes vocals effortlessly and it is the most haunting and atmospheric song of the performance.
Finishing with the much loved “Youngblood” off album Station which is greeted with a roar from the audience as it begins, the band power through this fan favourite and I thoroughly enjoy watching Turncrantz play as he is so animated and passionate behind the kit. Halfway through the song he stands and waves goodbye to the crowd signalling their final song. It’s a perfect ending to a good 1 hour and 20 minutes of some of the best that Russian Circles have to offer, with some surprise elements that sees the fans leaving feeling happily blown away by a moody and yet powerful performance.

Harper Lewis

(with Chelsea Wolfe)
“Memorial” the fifth studio album by Russian Circles is out now and available from all major music outlets on vinyl and CD.

Photography by Jo Moolenschot