Russian Circles are a heavy rock instrumental trio from Chicago. Comparisons to Pelican and Isis have been tiresome at best -- and inaccurate at worst -- as RC differ in key ways. The construction of their tunes is more intricate, not reliant as much on the heavy riff and the elegant phrase -- though it's not quite as delicate as Explosions in the Sky or Growing, either. Tight, constructed yet somehow sprawling rock, there is vulnerability amid the heaviness and noise. It's like a form of instrumental poetry, woven, articulated slowly and deliberately, and all designed to take you "there," wherever your particular "there" is. The buzz on this band in Chicago has been big and it's easy to see why. Now playing with Botch/These Arms Are Snakes bassist Brian Cook. Suicide Squeeze.
It's fitting that Chelsea Wolfe's second album opens with a hair-raising, animalistic snarl -- the sound of some beastly metamorphosis caught on tape. Ἀποκάλυψις (pronounced "apokalypsis") finds the L.A.- based artist perfecting her distinctly doom-drenched electric folk. Here she graduates from mobile 8-track experimentation to an actual studio, enlisting a few friends to help even as she maintains the strikingly visceral elements of her powerful debut, The Grime & the Glow (2010). The end result is a both a broader sprawl and a tighter claustrophobia, a serious heaviness of sound and spirit prone to unexpected moments of beauty and triumph. Rightly, the album's title is Greek for both "apocalypse" and "revelation." Wolfe's gift for tense beauty reigns supreme on "Tracks (Tall Bodies)," where warm guitar, cavernous drums, and her beguiling voice engender an elemental feeling of regret in tune with the words: It's a machine we're up against/Devoid of reason, devoid of sense." The upbeat "Demons" follows, seemingly as counterpoint, rolling forth on a damaged surf beat and becoming a careening steam engine of scratchy thrash and tortured cries. Later, "Moses" demonstrates what Wolfe may very well do best, cooing choral over grinding Sabbathy guitars, somehow hinting at an odd ebullience hidden in the dirging murk. Though Ἀποκάλυψις's tone is decidedly dark, it's a dynamic album, evidenced by buzzing, organ-soaked soul of "The Wasteland," the clanging blues of "Friedrichshain," and the haunted ambience of "To the Forest, To the Sea," which feels like a field recording from the bewitched woods of Wolfe's youth. The LP's undeniable high point however, is the unforgettable "Pale on Pale." The seven-minute song slowly bores its way into the listener's skull thanks to Wolfe's ghostly moan -- which deals death at every lyrical turn -- and the thick black metal chords that push it along. Somewhere between the blood-curdling scream and squalling feedback that close out the track, transcendence is achieved, and Wolfe's transformation into a true force of nature is complete.
California native Chelsea Wolfe has always embodied light and dark. Her music is a raw, dirging doom-folk with hints of black metal, deep blues and minimal synthesizer music, but it's as prone to triumph as it is despair. Her voice is both haunting and seemingly haunted, though whether by angels or demons is unclear. And her lyrics reflect an obsession not only with life's murkier moments, but the unlikely truths and beauty they so often reveal. It makes sense then that her influences run from Nick Cave and Selda Bagcan to Ayn Rand and Ingmar Bergman, and even more so that she hails from the wilder, woodsy northern part of her state. Wolfe's hometown was a small unspecified burg amidst the trees, idyllic by day and begging exploration, but forbidding once the fog crept in. Her skewed romanticism began early. At 9, she started sneaking into her father's home studio to record warped keyboard covers and Gothy R&B originals. But growing up, she never shared these, and it wasn't until 2009 that she considered making music for others to hear.
After a three-month stint abroad with a nomadic performance troupe playing cathedrals, basements and old nuclear plants, Wolfe returned home inspired. She began toting around an 8-track and recording, eventually winding up with the songs that would become her stunning 2010 debut, The Grime & the Glow. Described as both healing and harrowing, enchanting and narcotic, the album established Wolfe as an elemental force on the rise. Just as telling were a pair of cover songs including the timeless "You Are My Sunshine" as well as a deep cut from Norwegian metal icon Burzum that in her capable hands managed to sound equally terrifying. Drawn to Los Angeles' unique mix of gloss and grit, she moved to the city late last year and recorded her second album, Ἀποκάλυψις (pronounced "apokalypsis"), out on Pendu Sound Recordings in 2011. Recently, Chelsea Wolfe's name exploded in the music world after pop artist Richard Phillips used her song "Moses" in his newest art-film starring Sasha Grey which premiered at the Venice Biennale in June 2011.