Russian Circles – Station

3 out of 5

Label: Suicide Squeeze

Produced by: Matt Bayles

For better, but probably for worse, Russian Circles’ Station set the template for what I would come to expect from the band, which placed a judgment of unoriginality – of playing to post-rock instrumental expectations – upon their albums hereafter. Partially this was self-hype: I remember reading a review that talked about how the band’s work was so complex that they had to kick out their bass player to bring in TAAS / Botch guy Brian Cook instead – which was probably just a version of reality, but tone set, thanks; producer Matt Bayles was all over other albums I dug, so his presence helped; and it was on Suicide Squeeze, a label I respected. And then… opener Campaign was like every Mogwai-influenced slow-build ambient track I’d ever heard; the chugga chugga followup of Harper Lewis was appealing, but didn’t add anything to the Pelicans / 5ives / etceteras of the instrumental metal world, and also wasn’t complex enough to make a bid for Red Sparowes territory. The remaining four tracks just flip-flop between these modes; my ears apparently have never been evolved enough – even now 10+ years on of listening to this disc periodically – to pick out what, exactly, is different from song to song – I can’t tell you one Station track from another, except that some start quiet, some start loud.

Which is all to say that I expected more, but not to say that it’s a bad album. Station is very precise, and Bayles allows the group’s bass-heavy heft to define the sound, and give it a raw low-end, while also bringing his clarity to the the mix. It might never ebb towards extremes, but it does flow exceedingly well, waving back and forth between those modes, which glisten and rock in turn. In retrospect, this was the right choice: debut Enter was a bit forced to sound heavy, and had they gone completely glacial after that, it would’ve been disappointing; this was a considered way of exploring how to expand their sound without going too far afield.

Again, though, it set a judgement in place: that RC are always starting from a place of relative predictability, rather exactly what “post-rock instrumental metal” “should” sound like. That has a reliable, workman-like quality to it that makes Station very easy to rotate into a mix, like a nice palate cleanser between more extreme offerings from other bands. And, eventually, that workmanship paid off: the group plied it long enough to become influential in their own regard, and riff more excitingly off of the template they’d used, and added to.