Helms Alee and Russian Circles have a lot more in common than just being label mates and tour mates. Both trios have recently released critically acclaimed new LPs, “Stillicide” and “Guidance” respectively, that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying but haven’t gotten around to writing reviews of. I figured checking the bands out at Union Transfer last night was a good way to atone for my shameful tardiness, and I’m really glad that I did.
In direct opposition to Russian Circles’ singer-less approach, all three members of Seattle post grunge/sludge/doom conglomerate Helms Alee belt it to the rafters while they deftly bang out their signature Black Sabbath meets Alice in Chains worship. The AiC connection, for me anyway, comes in the way these three beautifully harmonize over an awesomely apocalyptic cacophony of grinding guitar, pounding bass and primal, savage drumming. As an HA fan from way back I was overjoyed when the band started to rip into “Paraphrase” from their debut record “Night Terror”, though “Stillicide” is so goddamned good I was just as happy to hear almost all of it played live. I suspect that the majority of the people who came out just for Russian Circles were thoroughly indoctrinated, and grabbed a vinyl copy on their way out of the venue.
If Russian Circles know how to do one thing it’s create atmosphere. The Chicago threesome entered the stage bathed in total darkness, only slowly being backlit as the atmospheric din of their ambient attack rose to an explosive full on post hardcore assault. The audience was fervent in their appreciation for the instrumental trio, and it was amazing to see that kind of devotion for a band with no vocalist for fans to latch onto emotionally in the traditional sense. Experiencing their prowess live erases any possible doubt. Russian Circles are just really fucking good.