Chicago trio Russian Circles return with not only their fourth and heaviest album to date - but also with Empros they're poised to take the crown as innovators reinvigorating the staid trappings of genre. Empros picks up where the anthemic riffs and melodies of 2009's Geneva left off and injects evermore slithering rhythms amid skull-crushing heft with all the visceral intensity of Godflesh, Swans and Neurosis. Put simply, Empros is Russian Circles' Master of Reality: a radical revision of both heavy and melody that is monolithic in its clarity and perfection. Or, like a lone surviving wooly beast emerging from a brutal winter's frost, Empros is the sound of a band shaking the ages from its shoulders with all the brutal force of a behemoth awakened.
Taking to Chicago's Phantom Manor studio once again with producer Brandon Curtis of The Secret Machines & Interpol -- who also helmed the band's previous album Geneva -- Russian Circles set out to experiment with their sound in new ways that would still reflect their live sound. In so doing, the band reached a new creative apex in which each of the musicians, guitarist Mike Sullivan, drummer Dave Turncrantz and bassist Brian Cook impart a streamlined and intensified attack to their songs that pummels even as it shifts throughout a range of moods and tempos.
The album opens with an imposing mechanical drone leading into funereal guitar notes that are abruptly interrupted by a propulsive drum beat as the proceedings of "309" erupt into something akin to an industrial revision of Celtic Frost. The song lunges through nearly 9 minutes of masterful rhythmic shifts and brutal guitar warfare with such assertive grace it sounds as though the band is throwing down a gauntlet defying all challengers. "Mladek" kicks off with the soaring notes of Sullivan's signature hammer-on guitar arpeggios as Cook's volume-swelling bass notes surge like bubbling molten lava. Turncrantz's innovative rephrasing of the drum pattern elevates the song as it slinks from part to part, guided by the syncopated chatter traded between chiming guitar notes and churning bass. Elsewhere, there are beautiful moments of melodic respite, helping to underscore the album's majestic strength. And, there may even be a few surprises awaiting within the album's six tracks. There are riffs, yes - many of them. But, with Empros the entire band seems to be the embodiment of the riff itself.