There’s something odd, at first, about seeing a band take to a stage bereft of microphones. “There’ll be no banter, here,” it seems to say. Where we’re going, we don’t need microphones. Of course, this could simply be down to Russian Circles’ fusion of instrumental post-rock and cross-disciplinary metal; they really don’t need microphones. It appears as more of an intentional statement than that though, one that highlights both what the band want to achieve and how they don’t quite manage to achieve it.
By stripping away all mechanisms of direct interaction with audience, the fans are encouraged to focus solely on the music. The band come across as being fairly indifferent towards its audience, the idea presumably being that you engage with the music as opposed to engaging with them, and it almost works.
The most striking thing about Russian Circles is that there’s only three of them. Listening to their studio work it’s easy to be sceptical about how the sound is produced. Surely it’s overdubbing trickery, smoke and mirrors? It can’t be reproduced live, right? Yet, while a little texture is lost in the translation to stage, the live act is just as deep and layered and noisy. It’s incredibly well orchestrated noise, with an expanse of effects pedals and loops acting as force multipliers to produce more of a beautiful racket than it seems three people should be able to. There’s no denying that Russian Circles have mastered the technical aspects of their musical craft, but it’s let down somewhat by the limitations in how it’s presented.
There are moments where you’ll be almost entirely enveloped by the gut wrenching bass, the sweeping tremolo picked walls of sound, the flourishing arpeggios, the complex syncopated rhythms. It’s, ultimately, the trappings of the traditional gig set up that spoil the effect. Whether they want you to focus on them or not, there they are, a band on a stage for you to look at, rooting you in a physical space that just stops you from becoming completely lost in the music.
Given a slight change in setting, where the band perhaps isn’t the focal point of the room or the audience’s preconception of what a gig should be is subverted somehow, the show might be hugely effective. As it stands, though, Russian Circles can lead their fans to the precipice, but can’t quite drag them in.