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Live Reviews : Russian Circles (Canberra) – 09/09/2011

By on September 13, 2011

Russian Circles have been tearing through the alternative metal scene since their inception in 2004. They offer something to everyone. Their guitarist Mike Sullivan crafts riffs that have the right mixture of sounding technical and being purely awesome, their bassist Brian Cook, made his name writing complex and thunderous basslines for Botch and These Arms are Snakes before joining Russian Circles. And their drummer, Dave Turncrantz, talk to anyone, and they will say he is one hell of a drummer. On top of the musicianship that musicians look for so tenuously in a band, Russian Circles’ ability to switch between peaceful, post-rock segments and chaotic metallic dissonance (especially on their latest album Geneva), gives them a wide appeal to non-musicians as well, and fans of dissonance and melody. While their studio albums are of the highest quality, one cant help but wonder, can Russian Circles pull all this off live? They only have one guitarist, and some of their songs require an impeccable sense of timing.

Before I got to see Russian Circles and the free pedal porn that comes with their shows, I had to wade through three supporting acts: Spartak, Bronze Chariot and 4Dead. Spartak are a noise/indie duo from Canberra with a perchance for feedback abuse, and some rather impressive drumming. The last time I saw Spartak, they were playing in the Braidwood National Theater, and the vacuous space of the venue absorbed most of their impact. However, in the darkened side room where the stage at ANU Bar is located, the cymbal crashes and layers of rolling feedback filled up the venue, creating an atmosphere somewhere between Godflesh’s Christbait Rising and ISIS’ Altered Course; a trance like mixture of anger and chaos.

Bronze Chariot took the stage next. Hailing from Adelaide, they have five members, most of who would not look out of place in Sergio Leone spaghetti western. They used to play Cult of Luna-esque post metal, but recently had a change of heart, and play music that most have described as “Cowboy-Doom”; a strange mixture of a Johnny Cash like attitude with a healthy dose of Neurosis. Layers of twangy telecasters, thundering basslines and vocals reminiscent of a very, very angry Tom Waits built an atmosphere of despair and doom. Bronze Chariot have the rock, and they also have a great sense of how to craft and manipulate soundscapes and atmosphere. Keep your eyes peeled for this band, they are worth seeing live.

4Dead were next to play. With nothing but a dim green light shining upon the darkened stage, the titans of Canberra’s hardcore scene stepped upon the stage. I had first heard about 4Dead six years ago, and ever since then had been dying to see them live. Amongst crashing  power chords, pummeling basslines and ballistic drumming, singer Jon Christopher ran from on end of stage to the next, screaming his lungs out, spilling beer and water all over the stage (and at one point the audience), spitting flem into the rafters of the roof, and diving into the crowd at terminal velocity. 4Dead are both a visual and an aural representation of chaos in its most pure form. I would highly recommend seeing them, and seeing them soon, before their madman of a singer moves to Chicago to raise even more hell.

Finally, the moment everyone was waiting for. The stage lights dimmed again, and on stepped Russian Circles, the men of the hour. They began with the bass and drum leaden intro to Harper Lewis, the guitar slowly swelling into the mix, the audience waiting for the inevitable rhythmic chug of guitarist Mike Sullivan’s Les Paul, the musical signal that it was now okay to headbang and pump your fist like you were at a typical metal concert. Harper Lewis faded away like it had begun, with drummer Dave Turncrantz showing off his impeccable sense of rhythm on his hi-hats. In place of Harper Lewis ‘s fairly peaceful ending, the layers of pounding rhythm that is the intro to Geneva began. Heads and bodies shook back and forth, while bassist Brian Cook hinted at the reason why Russian Circles may only need one guitarist. With the chaos and occasional dissonance of Geneva drawing to a close, the tap-tastic intro of Youngblood drifted out of the speakers, as Mike Sullivan showed off his ability to use a loop pedal better than anyone, creating the layers of riffs and sound so necessary to any post-rock/metal outfit. As a guitarist, it is actually incredible to watch Mike Sullivan play, as he manages looping, playing and keeping the hair out of his face all at the same time. The orgy of riffs that is Youngblood drew to a close, only to be replaced with the wavering intro to Philos, a ten minute Pelican-esque song, that has an incredible atmosphere, which was masterfully reproduced by three musicians who were becoming more and more inspiring by the minute. As a special treat for the audience, and because the guys in Russian Circles are such nice people, they played a song from their upcoming album, Empros. The song was called 309, sounded absolutely incredible, and it was obvious that most, if not all, of the audience was now eagerly awaiting their new album.

The next two songs on the Russian Circles set list were Carpe and Station. Once again these songs were executed to perfection and all the intensity of the record was reproduced, if not replaced by something better. As Station drew to a close, and the clock struck 11:30 pm, Russian Circles paused between songs for a moment. The same thought was on everyone’s mind: will they, or wont they? The pause hung for a moment, but all was answered when the opening riff to Death Rides a Horse blared out of the speakers, the drums and bass pounding along to what is surely Russian Circles’ most intense song. As those final chords came to a crashing close, the room filled with the pleas and screams for Russian Circles’ to play one more song, just one more. But it was not to be and the lights went up, revealing a floor covered in split beer and the eclectic audience that Russian Circles had drawn to the ANU Bar that night.

All bands that played brought something different to the table, and much credit must go to Russian Circles for playing with such a diverse range of bands. You would be a damned fool not to go see them on their first Australia tour, and besides you don’t want to miss the invite (available only at shows) to their end of tour party/gig.

Russian Circles setlist:

Harper Lewis
Death Rides a Horse


In between a busy schedule of studying, procrastination and sleeping Duncan sometimes writes album reviews. When not pretending to know things about music, he pretends to know things about the world over at Sudden Reason.