Russian Circles is a band that needs no introduction: they are a monolithic, shaping force of post-metal. Even at their worst – Station and Guidance come to mind immediately as my two least favorite records from the Chicago trio – they are still one of the best bands in the genre, transforming vaguely unsettling minor key melodies into resplendent post-rock beauty or reshaping off-kilter guitar chaos into some of the genre’s most memorable and powerful grooves. They are virtuosi within post-metal; they have not put out a bad album yet and it’s hard to believe they ever will.
Seeing them live several years ago while they were on tour with Between the Buried and Me and Coheed and Cambria (it only strikes me in retrospect what a fucking weird bill that is) was an absolute godsend for my music taste. I was beyond impressed with their set; the day following the show I devoured their discography from the most recent album, all the way back to their first record, the mighty Enter. I loved them all, but the last one stuck out the most because of how inventive and different from the others it was. From sophomore LP Station onwards, their formula was refined and tightened: it’s obvious that Station, Geneva, and Empros all come from the same band, but Enter has a raw, chaotic energy to it that separates it entirely from the pack. To be clear, it’s not completely unfamiliar to their later works, although there are far more ideas here than on any other Russian Circles record.
“Death Rides A Horse” – the best song on the album and very likely the best song in the Russian Circles canon – is a perfect example of something one could never find on another record of theirs. It’s a fast-paced track that sounds almost like a jam band at its best, but follows an admirably choreographed dance through five-minutes-and-change of searing instrumental post-metal. Right off the bat, we get a memorable tapped melody on the guitar backed by snappy drums and galloping bass; this moves into a slower section before returning to high speeds. This repeats, and what we find here is a dynamic that’s obvious in post-metal but has never worked quite this well: the relatively breakneck pace (in comparison to the rest of the genre) allows for much greater tension to be both built up and relieved. It seems simple, almost mundane, to point this out, but listen to the song and tell me you don’t feel the exact same way.
It’s this willingness to experiment and throw ideas at the wall that makes Enter such an amazing record. Far from being the streamlined, preened, polished act they are today, the Russian Circles of Enter is young and hungry, always moving on to the next tool in their musical arsenal and always constructing new ones. It’s bracing and energetic, melancholic and empowering, emotionally complex in the way that only post-metal can be. Enter is far from the platonic ideal of post-metal – it’s far too erratic and individual for that – but it’s an incredible example of the heights the genre can reach nonetheless.