As I was standing in the photo pit of the Murder City Devils' stage the Friday evening of Fun Fun Fun Fest, a band started playing on the other side of the large, divided stage. I couldn't see them, as I was 40 yards to the band's right, literally with my elbows on the unused stage but, boy howdy, could I ever hear the act kicking things off.
Who was the band that blew me away? It was Chicago's Russian Circles. In the span of 40 minutes, their pulverizing, rhythmic and ravaging set was made all the more intense by the fact that I could only hear the raging riffs and the percussive propulsion. My view of the enraptured, fist-waving fans in front of the stage, backdropped by the always majestic Austin skyline, proved to be the perfect live-action visual accompaniment to the explosive tunes.
Of course, after looking the band's history up when I got back to the hotel, I was a combination of embarrassed and excited. As it turns out, Brian Cook, Mike Sullivan and Dave Turncrantz have been a big deal to many people for a few years now. How had I missed out on them? While I pondered that thought, I realized I had multiple albums of Russian Circles material to unearth and that was enough to get over my easily bruised music-geek ego.
Given my sadly limited knowledge of the post-metal group's catalog, I decided to flip the script. I started with their most recent LP, Empros. I then proceeded to go backwards chronologically through the collection. It was a wonderful way to examine the band's evolution.
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Digesting the slicker, Steve Albini-aided Geneva and ending up with the instrumental group's 2006 debut, Enter, a couple of things were abundantly clear: This is an instrumental group that knows how to make people forget about singers and lyrics as linchpins and perhaps most importantly, Russian Circles really know who they are and they've become experts at finding different ways to express that to the masses, even in the face of what many might see as a limited range in their vocalist-free environment.
In my FFF Fest recap that ran in the paper edition of the Observer the week after, I noted there was a distinct "Mogwai meets Sabbath" vibe to the band's performance. While it's a simplistic description, the recorded product is anything but.
Perhaps all of this was more gratifying given that the Russian Circles found me, instead of me discovering them. I can't help but feel that's the reason this band has become the obsession I'm still feeding a couple of months after our initial introduction.