In its ongoing attempt to render heavy metal lighter than air, the instrumental trio Russian Circles has made some giant leaps upward—the most recent being 2009’s gorgeous Geneva, an album that emulsified Godflesh and Godspeed You! Black Emperor into a thick yet atmospheric protoplasm. It’s taken two years for Russian Circles to follow up with Empros, and it deviates from Geneva’s chamber-industrial ambience in a major way: The disc’s long gestation has given Empros opportunity to skip a few rungs on the evolutionary ladder.
Empros also brings something the band has long lacked, according to its detractors: low end. Bludgeoning in its density, the opener, “309,” comes on like a collapsing star. Bassist Brian Cook delivers his most tensile, tendon-like lines since his days with Botch and These Arms Are Snakes; instead of solos, guitarist Mike Sullivan plays ghosts. And on “Atackla,” Dave Turncrantz uses the drum kit as both an earthmover and a launch pad. By the time the gauzy, Swans-like gospel of “Praise Be Man” is pulverized by the distorted force of some heavenly fist, the disc has been swept off the planet entirely.
Most significantly, though, Russian Circles has finally shed its last vestige of orthodox post-rock, with all its precious textures and cerebral calculation. Rather, Empros is by far the closest thing to a true metal album that Russian Circles has ever made—in spirit, if not in fact. That alone doesn’t make it great, but the group’s simultaneous mastery and subversion of metal dynamics, astral melody, and deep wells of light and dark certainly does. Empros doesn’t just defy gravity, it defines it.