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Russian Circles Live at Cambridge, MA’s The Sinclair

Russian Circles at The Sinclair
Russian Circles at The Sinclair. Words and photos by Ben Stas.

If you’ve caught a Russian Circles tour at some point in the past several years, there isn’t much about this fall’s North American trek with Sargent House labelmates Helms Alee that will surprise you. Between the atmospheric lighting, the minimal stage presence and the overarching moodiness of their compositions, the band rarely subverts expectations. But while the Chicago instrumental trio promise a consistency that may not shock, it’s certainly one that still satisfies. This band is very good at what they do.

September 28 found Russian Circles returning to the same Boston venue where I last saw them on a 10th anniversary tour in 2014 – this time in support of their recently-released sixth studio LP. Guidance, another strong entry in the band’s catalog, furthers their exploration of sweeping, brooding soundscapes that rumble with a metallic undercurrent. They continue to effectively balance the heavier elements of their sound with the more traditionally melodic ones, and it’s easy to see why they’ve been able to cultivate the kind of fanbase that spanned from metalheads to Berklee kids at this particular gig.

The setlist this time around leaned heavier on new material, but naturally those songs fit in alongside standbys from Station or Empros. The band itself – guitarist Mike Sullivan, drummer Dave Turncrantz and bassist Brian Cook – sounded airtight as ever throughout the night. Sullivan and Cook operated their labyrinthine pedalboards with effortless ease, employing live loops and other technical wizardry to layer their sound with virtuosic precision. Whether you’ve seen them once or a dozen times, the band’s intensely focused live sets never cease to impress.

Seattle sludge trio Helms Alee worked nicely as a more forthrightly heavy opener, a role occupied by the likes of Mutoid Man and Inter Arma on previous Russian Circles tours. The presence of a metal band on those bills always made the gigs feel like more well-rounded affairs, and Helms Alee’s seismic sound did just that for this one. Guitarist Ben Verellen, bassist Dana James and drummer Hozoji Margullis traded off vocals between and amid songs, lending them a sense of unpredictability bolstered by jolting dynamic shifts. And while the band excelled as a whole, it was the kit-dismantling force of Margullis’ drumming that was ultimately their most impressive weapon.

Helms Alee

Russian Circles

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