Fresh off their recent lengthy tour and the release of new impressive album Gnosis on Sargent House, Brian Cook of the heavy instrumental post rockers RUSSIAN CIRCLES joins us for a brief end of the year wrap-up, featuring some interesting music tips and thoughts about the past couple of months.
Gnosis, their eighth album, eschews the varied terrain of their past works as it razes a path through the most harrowing territory of their sounds by employing a new songwriting technique. Rather than crafting songs out of fragmented ideas in the practice room, full songs were written and recorded independently before being shared with other members, so that their initial vision was retained. The album was engineered and mixed by Kurt Ballou at God City with additional tracking done at Chicago’s Electrical Audio.
In March of 2023 the band will continue their dates in the EU with Cult of Luna. See full dates below.
“It’s been a busy year.” – says Brian. “Russian Circles toured a bunch. SUMAC toured a lot too. These Arms Are Snakes got back together to do some shows around the US and Botch started rehearsing for some reunion dates in 2023. So whereas 2020 and 2021 allowed me to hang out at home and listen to A LOT of new music, this year involved significantly less leisure music listening.”
“I spent way more time playing music than listening to it, which was a nice contrast from the two years prior, but it makes it a little difficult to answer when people ask what new records I’ve been digging. That isn’t to say there haven’t been some highlights in 2022, but it feels a little disingenuous to say “this is one of my favorite albums of 2022″ if I haven’t listened to it at least a half dozen times. Hell, I still have unopened records that I mailordered in the first half of the year sitting by my turntable. Like I said, it’s been a busy year.”
So here’s what stood out for Brian in 2022. Words by Brian Cook.
High Vis – Blending
I’m always equal parts curious and skeptical when everyone in my Twitter feed collectively freaks out over an album. Hype can be a curse. But ya know what… this High Vis album deserves all the praise it’s received. The London-based quintet mix Revolution Summer-era Dischord anthems with ’80s Manchester rock into a gruff and hook-laden brand of melodic hardcore that sounds like it’s being played by a bunch of dudes on the dole who met at the neighborhood pub and began talking about how all the other bands in the city lost touch with the heart and soul of punk music. Like Lungfish? Stone Roses? Dag Nasty? The Smiths? Well, I’ve got good news for you…
Pestilength – Basom Gryphos
While I didn’t do the best job of keeping up with all the new records that came out in 2022, I did listen to A LOT of new death metal. And really, this list could have very easily turned into “Brian’s Favorite Death Metal Albums of 2022,” though a lot of that stuff is pretty interchangeable. I love so much of it, but I can’t really sit here and articulate the distinctions between Morbific and Mortuous. They both rule. You should listen to both of them. But I really need at least one death metal album on the list so I’m going with one that kept creeping back into the rotation after first hearing it back in March. I distinctly remember listening to this one for the first time on a SUMAC tour as we were rolling into Salt Lake City. The first song was great. The production was a little on the raw side, but still articulate enough to hear some of the nuances in the guitar playing. Second song was great too, though it was leaning enough into the cavernous all-out-assault style of death metal that I wasn’t sure it could sustain my interest for the remainder of the album. But this Basque band has a lot more up their sleeve than just big walls of distortion, and from track three onwards, it felt like every song had some new twist or turn to offer. I love a good back-loaded album, and Basom Gryphos is definitely a record that rewards the patient listener. Hell, the closing riff on “Tephra Codex” alone is worth the cost of admission.
Can – Live in Cuxhaven 1976
This feels a little like cheating. This is a live album that was recorded just three years before the famous German experimental band slipped into a long hiatus. But Can was a band whose whole creative strategy was centered on improvisation. And consequently, this new series of live albums doesn’t capture a band playing their greatest hits… it captures a band spontaneously conjuring these long form compositions from the ether. Sure, you might catch a snippet of a familiar musical phrase from the band’s output, but the band hadn’t been adverse to recycling a riff or two on their studio albums (e.g. the repeating guitar riff from Future Day’s “Moonshake” showing up on Saw Delight’s “Don’t Say No”). So really, these live records feel like albums of all new material. And while the first two installments of this series really highlight the slow-build and tenuous tight-rope walk of four musicians bouncing ideas off each other until something catches and takes off, Live in Cuxhaven feels like it had a bit more time in the editing department. Hell, it’s a single LP as opposed to its 3xLP predecessors, so that right there tells you this one is a bit more lean and mean. Personally, I like the gradual unfolding and patient climaxes of Live in Stuttgart and Live in Brighton, but that doesn’t mean the focused Cuxhaven set isn’t a blast in its own right.
Kūka’ilimoku – Ho’omana Nuclear Moon
Okay, so I was a little hesitant to include this one. I was beyond excited to find out that there is a one-man black metal band helmed by a native Hawaiian, and that their whole aesthetic is built around Hawaiian imagery, language, and motifs. I lived in Hawaii as a kid and am pretty curious about any punk/metal/underground rock project that comes out of the area. And it helps that Kūka’ilimoku excel at that particular style of black metal that’s sufficiently raw and primitive while still being articulate, riff-driven, and totally punishing. That’s what I ultimately want out of black metal
So… great band, great aesthetics, great concept. I immediately ordered their album off of bandcamp. Then came the bummer discovery… The album came out on a label that also releases unabashed NSBM albums. We’re talking swastikas on the album covers. Why would a native Hawaiian who rages against oppressive ideologies put out a record on a label that pushes fascist haole shit? What the fuck? Pretty sure Kūka’ilimoku got a lot of shit for that move because the record is no longer on their bandcamp. Look, I get it… it’s hard to operate in the black metal world without being a degree of separation or two from some edge-lord troll or sketchy dude that thrives on political ambiguity, but bare minimum… don’t work with a label that puts out records by self-identifying National Socialists. It’s really that easy. Anyway, hopefully this record gets reissued on a not-shitty label.
In the meantime, don’t give your money to people that give a platform to Nazis.
Dead Moon – Unknown Passage
And now the real talk. Look, it’s that time of year and all the AOTY lists are coming out and I’m seeing these individuals post, like, their top 100 albums of 2022. I’m not saying you can’t enjoy 100 new albums in a year, but… how are you actually digesting that much music? I mean, really fully experiencing it and getting deep into the marrow of it? I’m willing to concede that there are music fans out there who are probably better at absorbing and connecting with new music than I am. Maybe these folks can listen to something once or twice and say “yup, this is an album of the year contender” and have that experience EVERY THREE OR FOUR DAYS but that is not in my skill set. I still want to listen to old favorites. I still want to learn about things I missed out on from last year. I still want to reinvestigate old “classics” that didn’t move me on first listen. There’s just SO MUCH music out there, and I can’t really hang with this notion that enjoying something once or twice equates to being a fan of it.
This is all my roundabout way of confessing that I probably listened to Dead Moon more than any other artist in 2022. So yeah, this doesn’t really fit in with the whole Album of the Year thing, but fuck it… we put too much emphasis on gorging ourselves with the new and not enough time leaning into the not-new.
Here’s the deal… I didn’t care about Dead Moon when they were around. I lived in the Pacific Northwest, so I got to see ’em live, and I’d investigated them enough to know what they were about, but they also seemed like they belonged to the older crowd. And I think I wanted them to sound like something else. Their records look kinda dark and sinister, and yet they sound like some scrappy band from the ’60s that presaged Creedence Clearwater Revival and MC5. It just didn’t make sense to me. But a couple of years ago a friend foisted In the Graveyard on me and I’ve had an insatiable appetite for Dead Moon ever since.
I think a big part of it is that these songs all sound so familiar to me after living in the Pacific Northwest these past three decades. It reminds me of drinking $1 beers at the old haunts on Capitol Hill or going to the punk rock record stores in the ’90s or hanging out at shows in dive bars around Seattle. It just SOUNDS like an era, and I love it. And it makes me think of how these records sound so hasty and desperate and cheap but the songs themselves exude this aura of “yeah, this was all we had, but we made it work.” Beneath all that tape hiss and grime and poorly intonated guitar there are these absolute gems of songs, and maybe you just had to hear them linger in the background for a few dozen years before they revealed their humble power. And that’s not something you’re gonna get from two cursory listens on a streaming service while you’re typing work emails.
RUSSIAN CIRCLES EU TOUR 2023, wit Cult Of Luna:
March 17 Copenhagen, DK – Store Vega
March 18 Berlin, DE – Huxleys
March 19 Wiesbaden, DE – Schlachthof
March 20 Utrecht, NL – Tivoli Ronda
March 21 Brussels, BE – AB
March 22 Paris, FR – Olympia
March 23 Stuttgart, DE – Wizemann
March 24 Lausanne, CH – Les Docks
March 25 Ljubljana, SI – Kino Siska
March 27 Vienna, AT – Arena
March 28 Munich, DE – Muffathalle
March 29 Prague, CZ – Roxy
March 30 Krakow, PL – Studio
March 31 Warsaw, PL – Progresja