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:

Cross-Post: The Post-Rock Way — A New Cycle | Spotlight: Coastlands

This post was originally on my other blog about exploring spirituality and philosophy through post-rock music. I felt it must be shared, as the song I highlight and the experience I had in the described concert really resonate with the last post I just wrote. I recently 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.


This last weekend, I had the pleasure of a short road trip to attend the Post-Rock and Friends Fest in Portland, OR. I had a chance to see a few bands live whom I’d been wanting to see for years. I’m going to write two posts about this regarding the two bands that really grabbed my heart.


One of my favorite post-rock albums of 2020 was Death by Coastlands. Here’s what I wrote on my 2020 best albums review:

Prepare to face the destruction of death in this album. Coastlands goes full post-metal and crushes you without falling into the standard doomy dynamics that post-metal can get stuck in. It’s epic, empowered, and gorgeous. This came out near my birthday, and it ended up being a perfect birthday present.

Retrospective | Best Post-Rock Albums of 2020

Returning to this album a couple years later for an intensive listen brought so many new layers of interpretation and experience. The last year has been a long slog through a cycle of death for me (in the sense of facing the end of the old). My sense of who I was has died. My sense of purpose has died. My ability to stand up again, walk forward, and move on has been challenged, time and again. In that time, tarot cards have been a meaningful self-care tool for solace, insight, and a sense of meaning when things have felt meaningless.

One of the key cards in the high arcana is the Death card. If you are unfamiliar with the tarot, you’ll possibly pause with some trepidation at that, but Death is more than a card that says someone around you will die. It’s a card about the end of an old cycle and a transition into a new one. Life is a vibrant unfolding of change, and a key component of the new coming forward in change is the old ending and disappearing. That’s what death is. As I put it in one of my favorite poems in the early days of my other blog:

Birth, birth, birth

           &

Death, death, death

—  In every moment

    With each heartbeat & breath

A Human Becoming

Coastlands’ album overflows with this energy of change, empowerment, flow, and growth through the death of the old. Every song has heavy, crushing power, but there are major key aspects as well where the lotus blossom grows in the detritus at the side of the road (image from the early passages of the Dhammapada – a chapter with overtones of living well in the face of the transitoriness of life, interestingly enough). The dirge has just as much of a joyous affirmation. It’s a recognition that one’s going over is a going under (Nietzschean riff – early Zarathustra).

I know that this post is dropping a lot of references, so let’s return to the band and the album concretely – seeing Coastlands live emphasized all of this I’m saying. I overflowed with energy and intensity, and I was even more impressed after the concert when speaking with the bassist and realizing that the band’s sound has changed and developed in the last couple albums as the lineup has changed, and new experimentation and growth is already shining through in the little that’s been revealed about their upcoming album. They are harnessing the strength of a new cycle – transitioning with change, the blockages that the last couple years have thrown at all of us in so many ways, and other various challenges of individual and group lives. They take these and shine. That’s the opportunity of the Death card.

Two versions of the Death card – Crowley’s from the Thoth Deck, which shows the cutting off of the old, and a more current reimagining of the Thoth deck, the Wayward Dark, by an artist in Portland (hence the choice here)

I want to showcase the final song of Death as a share here. The song “Marrow” starts with a sorrowful chorus of voices and doomy guitar riffs with discordant static from the amps. It grows into a heavy crescendo of guitar and drums. The old has been cut off, and we’re to the marrow deep in the bones of the broken. Then the song shifts to a more pensive, flowing guitar on top of the heaviness it pulls us along beyond that first stage into something more, something that survives. That’s the true power in that marrow*. It’s the potential to stand up again and make something new.


*One last spiritual geek aside on Marrow – I can’t help but be reminded of the story of Bodhidharma’s successor, Huike, who cut off his arm to gain Bodhidharma’s tutelage. Later on, Bodhidharma passed on his “marrow” in recognizing the transmission of his teaching to Huike.

Heartbreak | Poetry | Crimson Drops

A rough attempt at poetry – initially thought of during a recent run. The beginning is merely a symbolic expression of the pain of loss – not any message of intention at self-harm.


Languid flow oozes – ebbing life and death
Crimson crystals coagulate
Drops fall to the ground
Mixing with the salt of tears

The stain of such a staunched flow
Crimson – the deep color of compassion
Mahayana monk’s tender tone
A reminder: death (XIII) is transition

Romance may have withered and fallen
The faded crimson of a dead rose
Yet heart’s vulnerability
Can hear the cries of the entire world

Twisted knot on my arm
Crimson dyes of tattooed ink
A lucky symbol and inspiration
Wisdom and compassion: entwined as reality

No matter my despair
My raw flesh of heart
Can pull in all the despair of the world
And push out peace to all – tonglen


May this pull in the despair of heartbreak from all those who feel it, take it upon myself, and replace it in everyone out there with warmth, acceptance, and peace.

Gassho!