Sunday, May 16, 2010

Russian Circles: Geneva (2009) Review

Any group with a few instruments and an artistic bent--whether genuinely artistic or merely a pretension to it--can perform post-metal. And not many people genuinely get it, either, so someone without any talent for the genre can probably fool a lot of people into thinking they've made some brilliant music; it's sort of like the emperor's new clothes.

Instrumental post-metal group Russian Circles has gotten a lot of praise for this album, due to their restraint, and their ability to let the songs grow organically rather than to force it or rush through the song. But restraint and organic growth are what make it post-metal in the first place. It's not what makes it good post-metal. So, what makes for good music in the genre, and did Russian Circles achieve that here?

Good post-metal must come in the form of a good album; unlike other genres, a single song won't do it. The album has to be built like a novel. A good novel has somewhere that it's going, and it has a number of conflicts along the way. Each song is the building up and resolution of a minor conflict, but each of the songs must fit together into a whole. Any good album, whether post-metal or any other genre, must follow this pattern.

What makes it post-metal is the way the story is told. Most music is comparable to a plot-driven story: it gets where it's going as quickly as it can. Post-metal, on the other hand, should be like a good, character-driven novel. The themes present in the music are like the characters; they interact and develop naturally, and this is the nature of the conflict, its climax, and resolution.

The greatest group in the genre, Isis, knows how to do this. They know where they want to go with the song, and, like any good author, they know how to carefully construct the elements that will naturally get to that point, in due time, without cheating the listener out of the suspense.

On Geneva, Russian Circles shows a good understanding of the fact that the music has to develop naturally. However, where it's lacking is that they sometimes don't seem to know where they're going with the songs, and, as a result, they don't get anywhere. The effect is something like listening to a band that's played for a long time together doing an improvised jam session. About half the songs work, but the only ones that work well are the album opener and the title track. However, these are the first two songs. You don't put the whole story in the first two chapters.

There is another problem as well. The album seems to be mostly post-rock, and only ventures into post-metal territory a few times. This is something else Isis has no problem with.

I don't mean to say that the whole thing is terrible, though, so don't take this review the wrong way. It works, some of the time. But post-metal can only work really well if the entire album works, and this one has some definite low points, especially the dismal "Hexed All."

The Verdict: Russian Circles shows some ability on their third album, because it works at times. People who can't get enough of Pelican will probably enjoy it. But if you're not really crazy about post-metal, stick with better groups like Isis, Intronaut, or Neurosis. I give it 2 out of 5 stars. It was about like reading a Robert Heinlen novel. It started out strong, and had some highlights along the way, but there were times that I just wanted to put it down.


  1. This genre as a whole doesn't do it for me. I can't even get into Isis or Neurosis.

  2. It's not very immediate. In that sense, it's contrary to most of the evolution of the metal genre since the NWOBHM, except for some doom. So, I can't blame anyone for not liking it.

    I like it when it's good, but it's very, very difficult to make it good. I think I have some weird taste though; I have the taste of a critic.