I usually don’t happen to love an album so easily at the first listen, but Blood Year proved to be a pleasant exception. Perhaps I have shown my hand a tad too early, so let’s try and work out the reasons behind this statement. My relationship with Russian Circles actually started in quite an erratic manner, as I was listening to my fair share of Pelican, Red Sparowes and some of the other older post-rock and post-metal powerhouses of the mid-’00s. For some reason, the band from Chicago didn’t get me at first, perhaps also because I tried listening to too much of it at one time.
In the meantime, Sullivan, Turncrantz, and Cook kept on building their own legend with such solid albums as Station, until their landing on Sargent House with Empros, which eventually brought them into the firmament of international post-metal. Many things have happened since, when the release of Guidance in the summer of 2016, followed by news about their show here in Tuscany, finally brought me back at once towards the orbit of Russian Circles.
Over the years, the Los Angeles-based label got us used to their meticulous style of work in the promotion of the artists they collaborate with, and this time around was no exception, with the launch of the first single “Arluck” a couple of months before the release of Blood Year. Among other things, one could notice the mystical aura of the sober artwork by Orion Landau, and the omnipresent Kurt Ballou taking care of mixing and mastering; also, the album was recorded at the Electrical Audio studio founded by Steve Albini. Russian Circles doubled down with the crushing heavy “Milano” about one month later, and at that point my hype was just off scale: even before being released, the latest work by the Chicago-based trio was potentially already on my top of the year list. Of course, two songs are not enough for this to happen.
Blood Year can be divided in two parts, respectively opened by “Hunter Moon” and “Ghost On High”, a couple of very minimal intros of about two minutes each, which in some moments brought to my mind another one of Sargent House’s releases of 2019. The other five songs are perhaps some of the darkest and thickest material put together by Russian Circles throughout their long career. The year of blood that comes at us with overwhelming might is whirling, roaring, complicated, you can even grasp some hints of Agalloch here and there. The central song “Kohokia” connects the two sections, embodying the many essences that characterize the trio’s music.
As “Quartered” annihilates you, it is very likely that you will realize you have just finished listening to one of this year’s most interesting records. A year of blood and conflict that the band put into music with great craftsmanship and with no words.