Russian Circles - Mladek (Live In Singapore)

Russian Circles - Geneva (Beginning)

Bleak, brutal and beautiful, it moves from blackened metal to haunting, ethereal layers on a compelling journey that offers a complete experience, rather than just a collection of strong songs. It's one of our favourite albums of , so naturally, we wanted to probe the creative mind of their amiable guitarist Mike Sullivan on everything from mini amps to fully collaborating with a vocalist.

Bleak, brutal and beautiful, it moves from blackened metal to haunting, ethereal layers on a compelling journey that offers a complete experience, rather than just a collection of strong songs. It's one of our favourite albums of , so naturally, we wanted to probe the creative mind of their amiable guitarist Mike Sullivan on everything from mini amps to fully collaborating with a vocalist.

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Your last album, Empros, had its dark moments, but there are parts on Memorial that are a whole new shade of black for the band. What was the mindset for this album compared to its predecessor? While that album was written in the studio and changed around - and was my favourite record up to that point - we knew we could do better. We knew we could get better tones, better sounds, get our ideas across clearer. We thought that album was going to screw us; we were proud of the songs but we weren't sure whether it came out the way we wanted it to be.

So we just kept working on riffs, homing in on parts, individually and tonally, figuring out how we fitted into the band. It was a matter of taking a broader scope to everything in terms of what serves the song from each member. Also, a big part of it was that we tuned down to B on certain songs, and that really opened up some sonic potential that we couldn't tap into before.

We were capturing ourselves with a more accurate feel. What was the process to achieve that? It was a matter of seeing which songs fitted because we ended up dropping one song that didn't really fit in with the rest. We decided there was going to be a split point in the middle for the vinyl. So we said, 'Let's see it as side A and side B. That didn't take much construction once we had an idea we were aware of how to transition things.

For example, Memoriam and Memorial are in different keys, so they transition well into the next song or come out well from the one before. Trying different keys and tunings to see how it affects the listener - there was some thought put into that. You seem to have moved from to focusing more on textures, discordance and huge, expansive soundscapes.

What were you trying to achieve on this album? By throwing all these neat changes in there you can lose the point of it all. We're still learning that on each album we find what translates well. Some of the tunes were based more on feel and rhythm than actual riffs.

There's not that many riffs on the album, I'd say. Dissonance is more effective than a cool riff to me, because you can understand that. Okay, those notes don't work together but it elicits a feeling nevertheless.

At the same time, we're conscious of having something for the listener to hold on to. It's a matter of balancing the ambience with that element to hang on to. Sometimes the busier, faster stuff just won't stick with you.

It comes and goes. Is black metal a genre that's had an impact on you as a player or is it coincidental? There's definitely influence from that genre, for sure. But at the same time we'll look at it as, here's a black metal approach for guitar with a more hip-hop influenced drum line. We don't talk about it, but it ends up happening.

We don't want to re-do something that people have done better. So if this is an intense black metal-ish part, let's not got down that route intentionally. Let's try to see what the bass can do to offset that riff and give it more groove, that kind of thing.

That's where the beauty of having three different brains working together comes in: It's simple, but you have to ask yourself does the idea feel good to you? In black metal, so many bands get caught up being tough and they need to step back and say, 'Is that working?

I love to set up a groove and sit in it for a while, just bathe in it. Back with Karutrock it would be, 'this is the guitar line - this is going to be it for a few minutes. It started out as a totally different song, unrecognisable to how it ended up on the studio recording. It was initially a folk song with chords in standard tuning with a little melody on top of it.

We had a chat and Dave said, 'What if we took that main melody and made it a heavier song with more of an aggressive approach? Then Brian said he had a crazy fingerpicking part already and could transpose the key to make it work with the riff. So he spent some time with that and Dave and I fell in love with it. So he comes in with that and it's brilliant, it needed that. I would never have come up with that, so it was a welcome addition. Once he started doing that we opened the part up more and that ended up changing the structure of the song a little.

The best thing to do as a musician is to shut up for a while. That was one of my goals with this record and I failed miserably, unfortunately ! I should shut up more: I've listened to Jesus Lizard records and Duane would just cut out and you'd just hear the groove of the rhythm section and it just sounds so powerful - then he would come in again and it would sound so intense.

Geneva tab. by Russian Circles Russian Circles- Geneva Title Track...

They were a four-piece band, but they'd make it sound so much bigger than it actually was, without any spoke and mirrors. I still need to take my own advice, I suppose, but it is good to take a breath without being too minimalist. But we were conscious of that on this record. There are a few songs, when we started tuning down, where there was room for something else in the mix. He had a baritone and on the first half of Deficit and for a good bit of it's on the baritone for him. He went nuts with the Taurus as well.

He's got that Moog Taurus synth. He fully embraced it. So there's that and tons of guitar drones hidden in there that ended up really giving us more freedom where that helps fills up the texture a bit, where you don't have to be as busy, per se, as you usually would be.

Again, it lets the density of the music come to the fore more. What's the key behind that sound? It's funny because that song was written pretty quickly. Brian and Dave were just talking and I was horsing around with a riff quietly and they said, 'What is that? There wasn't too much tweaking and then recording. It fell into place, but mixing was tough. One of the guitar tracks had chorus, so we brought that up to round it out, where you don't hear the chorus but somehow it affects the guitar tone.

It was a matter of getting the bass to really have a weight to it. Not about hearing the notes. And Brian was kind of apprehensive about that. I feel like it's a happy accident. We mixed it every way with the EQ to make that a little more articulate.

But that was the missing piece - to have that blown out low end that was naturally there. It's a really simple song to us, but the marriage of the instruments happens to work out in a natural way. Chalk that one up to low end! But sometimes it's a case of, 'Let's not tinker with that too much because it's sounding pretty good.

What are the elements in there? It all came from messing around by myself. I had three or four parts stacked and a lot of it was filling with drones. There are a lot of drones on the record, getting a really ethereal kind of reverb'd washed out note. Just one note by itself and then occasionally bringing another note to harmonise with that. I picked that up a few weeks before recording and, man, that thing is my ace in the hole. A lot of that stuff sounds like synth, and there are strings on the record - don't get me wrong - but that's a versatile pedal.

Even a hint of distortion will make stuff break up in an organic, cool way. You don't even need delay - with that pedal alone you could do a solo noise set! Robert Fripp secretly made that pedal years ago but didn't tell anybody about it.

Again, finding the right wrong note to make it uncomfortable. A lot of that stuff is tucked in the mix where you may not notice it, where t there's a little perversion of the melody with one wrong note being introduced here and there.

That and I picked up another one from Strymon called the El Capistan delay. That's another really versatile, cool pedal.

I can't say enough. I'm not endorsed by them or anything, but I'm looking forward to checking out other pedals by them. The Meatsmoke is my guy, I love it so much, but during tracking something didn't sound quite right.

In mixing that was always the go-to amp just because of the way it sat with everything else in the mix. It's funny how your ears can deceive you. So I had those two and then oddly enough I had a Fender Bassman that was in the studio.

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Mike Diver While undoubtedly influenced to some extent by the mightily impressive instrumental racket made by stateside trio Russian Circles , this British three-piece of vocal-less rock sorts go beyond so many post-rock-meets-metal combos by delivering a sound that is as tight and fine-tuned as it is groove-laden and dance-friendly.

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