Review: Russian Circles @ Middle East Upstairs, 12/2

December 3, 2009

Before you assume you would never like a metal band, consider seeing Russian Circles live. They’ll take you on a unique, orchestrated journey—without any lyrics. The instrumental metal trio from Chicago headlined a sold-out show at Cambridge’s Middle East Upstairs Wednesday night.

Hailing from Louisville, The Phantom Family Halo opened the show with “Blackouts and Runaways” off their double LP entitled “Monoliths and These Flowers Never Die” which came out in October. The song’s eerie, monotone verses are grow increasingly ominous when vocalist and drummer whisper lyrics like “saw you dancing in your dreams wearing a dead man’s shirt; saw you sleeping like a queen, your crown was covered in dirt.” Their music can be described as rock laced with LSD—meshing psychedelic bells and pumping whammy bars with classic 1970’s battle cry, rock chants. This oxymoronic juxtaposition results in surprisingly catchy music with a strong percussion backbone.

Fellow Louisville natives, Young Widows, followed with a more direct metal sound. Steady, pounding drumbeats and screeching guitars exemplified the rougher and heavier sound Young Widows aggressively bring to the table. The epitome of this loaded style was their performance of “Old Skin;” in which, lung-emptying screaming and almost mechanical guitar sound sufficiently riled up the crowd and the hardcore head banging ensued. Once Young Widows finished, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by lyrics being screamed into my face, rampant crying guitars, and the constant swelling of the drums thumping.

Russian Circles provided the pleasantly surprising alleviation from the smothering math rock of Young Widows. Their music was refreshingly narrative and it constantly developed into something bigger and better within each song by itself.

Their songs are epically progressive, beginning like an elementary, dreamy lullaby evolving into a full-blown, melodious medley. Russian Circles take their listeners through the transformation from a simplistic, intimate moment into a fully developed symphony. The band was like a three-member orchestra, conducted by the pulsing energy of the audience. Intricate guitar riffs, packed drum patterns, mile-a-minute bass lines, and looping all fused together seamlessly to create a musical ensemble much like a classical orchestra. A combination of this synthesis and the music’s natural ability to connect with the live audience without the band having to utter a single word on stage is the pivotal factor that makes them unmistakably more than just another metal band.

So don’t deem off metal until you hear to Russian Circles play live. Their newest album, “Geneva,” frankly cannot stand up to their live versions of their title track and “Malko.” As a member of the audience accurately said, “The thing about falling in love with live bands is that listening to their album almost always breaks your heart.”

-Renee Trilivas

(Image via

Russian Circle’s newest album: Geneva

released by Suicide Squueze

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