When Mono announced that their latest album Hymn to the Immortal Wind would feature a 28 – count ’em – 28 piece orchestra in addition to the Japanese fivesome, I nearly threw up on myself with excitement. Finally, the culmination of everything post-rock had been striving to obtain, a brutally heavy album with moments of unparalleled euphoric crescendos. I thought it would be the end-all be-all of rock as we knew it. When the album came in the mail, I listened to it over and over, perplexed. Where were the trumpets heralding the rapture? Why hadn’t my room caved in because of how awesome it was? It sounded like Mono, but with more strings, in fact if no one told me the album featured a 28 piece orchestra I wouldn’t have really thought twice.
Now, fast-forward seven months and Russian Circles release their newest album Geneva to little fanfare. Why should there be? Three guys playing heavy soundscape post-rock, with a guitar, drum, bass and a newly added string section consisting of a cello and a violin. Well, people should be paying attention to Geneva precisely because, with its microcosm of members, it tackles and surpasses the weight of Mono’s Hymn on every front. Never have Russian Circles’ compositions been fraught with such terrifying force, breakneck tempo changes, soul charging crescendos and overwhelmingly beautiful soundscapes. Geneva sounds like everything Mono’s album should have been, but on a shoestring budget and a disproportionate amount of chest crushing power.
Leading the cavalcade like the first shot of battle, “Fathom” comes out of a hazy drone of bowed cellos and a discordant guitar line before launching into one of the heaviest compositions Russian Circles have ever put to tape. Brooding, wounded and menacing, Brian Cook’s rumbling bass-lines take the lead and fill in lock-step with Dave Turncrantz’s frenetic drumming. Geneva is a bass players album, Mike Sullivan’s brutal riffs often concede to fall in behind the highly rhythmic, seismically charged bass lines that propel this album forward. There are moments on “Fathom” and the title track “Geneva” that make my guts feel like they are going to fall out.
Structurally, Geneva is near flawless. Right out of the gate we are subjected to two songs that completely destroy the notion that post-rock is only listenable for the big pay off, that emotionally manipulative, slow-built crescendo that is supposed level you flat. The moment that makes buying the album worth it. Russian Circles, deconstruct the crescendo-core myth by playing with teeth from the word go. There is no waiting around to be leveled by an all out assault of spiritual power-chord ascendance. It isn’t until “Melee” that we get a first-wave reprieve and that the cello and violins make their formal entrance. Following a similar trajectory as 2008’s Stations most gorgeous track “Versus”, “Melee” is a slow burner starting out with a fade-in of restrained guitars and a soaring violin before the palm muted major chords and tribal drumming swoop in alerting you that this is a false summit. Russian Circles are back to take years off your hearing capacity like they never left.
The pseudo-reprieve comes just in time: “Hexed All” is a testament to post-rocks epic breakdown; A buzzing, shimmering masterpiece of mood and punctuation with moments of restrained classical beauty from a string section that can fit easily into a crammed recording studio.
The album fades out with a few more peaks and valleys, the opening guitar line of “Malko” is a echoing, technical marvel, reminiscent of late Mogwai (see “Kings Meadow” off The Hawk is Howling). If we were to take Geneva as a single composition the last two tracks, “The Mountain Comes to Muhammad” and “Philos,” would be the diminuendo to a powerful and abrupt crescendo, waves of crashing power-chords and uplifted fists in a dingy concert venue in some burned over city in the Midwest. A sound that could fill exclusive two night sets in New York’s finest concert halls is being played with all the piss, vinegar, blood and sweat in your city’s smallest all-ages venues or dingiest dive bars. You can take the Russian Circles out of the rust-belt but you can’t take the rust-belt out of the Russian Circles.