Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way–Growth | Spotlight: Russian Circles

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I share many of the posts from that blog when I write them, as they fit in well here too. This one is about Nietzsche’s philosophy as an inspiration for an energetic/emotional stance towards life, for instance. At the beginning of the year, I wrote a post on the best albums of 2021 in post-rock, so I recommend checking that out if you find the music in this post interesting.


The cool air of fall blew off the sea onto my face as I walked through my darkened neighborhood last night with Russian Circles’ live album, Live at Dunk! Fest, driving my steps. I was pondering what exactly to say for this post. Last week offered a great opportunity that I had awaited for years, seeing this power trio live for the first time. They’ve been my most listened to band for the last few years, since I got into them. I have listened to almost only their music since this concert was announced. Even though my expectations were somewhere up in the stratosphere near where the upper atmosphere borders space, these guys didn’t disappoint. It would not be an understatement for me to say that this concert and all the experiences around it made my year.

Between that and the fact that my last post about Russian Circles brought confused feedback from friends, finding it too difficult and dense, I thought it would be good to describe their dynamism again in a different way. If one band warrants that focus, they do.

When I was walking and pondering last night, the songs on the album while looking down on the dark, moonlit water of the sea brought back moments from the concert. The particular song to pull at me first was Afrika. As I said last time, “Guidance” is the album I find to be the band’s best, but Afrika is the point where the movement of the first 3 songs starts to chill a bit. However, in the concert, the rolling drums of this song grabbed me and made me feel like I was flying in a way that felt like a therapeutic moment for a lot of recent life. I remember thinking that I never realized just how much I needed this song.

How do you express a feeling like this without riffing on big ideas that would probably take too much background reading or explanation? Furthermore, how do you do it with a band that’s as sparse and cryptic, completely left up to interpretation, as Russian Circles? I’m going to do this by trying to delineate the atmosphere that resonates in this band’s songs and then try to analyze that down to it’s movement and energy as two focal points.

The overarching atmosphere that is in Russian Circles’ albums is a feeling of intense, crushing circumstances yet adapting and growing beyond them, shining above them. The already mentioned song, Afrika, is a great example of this. I spoke of this at length in my last post. For me, Russian Circles’ albums feel like a destruction that leads to new flourishing, creation, and hope. If I were to use another anchor point rather than Nietzsche, I would use the ideas of the Tower card and the Star card as ideas here – the destruction of an existing order opens the way for the hope of the new, a light in the darkness.

To expand or express this differently, I’d like to re-center on two focal points within that atmosphere. First, the movement of their music is a moving onward. Second, and in resonance with the first, the energy feels to be that of growth. To me, again in relation to ideas from tarot, this feels like the powerful abundant dynamism of “Empress energy”, basically an abundance of life force as flourishing in most every sense. Ironically, when thinking of this further, I realized that the name of one of Russian Circles’ albums is “Empros” which means forward or onward in Greek(and sounds a lot like Empress). So, to reiterate the previous concepts here and in the earlier post: their songs are a moving beyond that which presses down on us with a feeling of growing out of it or above it.

Funnily enough, when I saw them live, I waited for an autograph afterward, and I chatted with others waiting outside. One of the other fans was thrilled that they had played Youngblood from “Station” because the entire album had helped her through a dark chapter of her life. I couldn’t agree more. Songs like Micah, Ethel, Vorel, and others have had the exact same resonance for me precisely because of the dynamics I described above.

In trying to choose a single song to exemplify this, I thought of Mlàdek, especially because it is from that album, “Empros”. Also, it was the final song of their set when I saw them. This song speaks of that forward movement and that growing outward, in spite of the many challenges we face. Beyond that something about this song in particular makes me fully feel the image and quote from The Dhammapada I wanted to use to sum up everything I’ve said here about growing and shining within and beyond adverse circumstances:

As a sweet-smelling lotus
Pleasing to the heart
May grow in a heap of rubbish
Discarded along the highway,
So a disciple of the Fully Awakened One
Shines with wisdom
Amid the rubbish heap
Of blind, common people

The Dhammapada, Chapter 4: Flowers, lines 58-59; trans. – Fronsdal.

Studio version of Mlàdek:

Live album of RC at Dunk! Fest 2016. Mlàdek starts at roughly 53:00: