Russian Circles / Chelsea Wolfe @ SWG3, Glasgow 26/10/2013

Russian Circles & Chelsea Wolfe

While Russian Circles and Chelsea Wolfe may not share much except for their record label, their disparity makes identifying their fans tonight amusingly simple. Are they wearing a flamenco skirt? Do they have a single teardrop drawn on their cheek in mascara? They’re probably here for Chelsea. Beard and a slim-fit faded t-shirt? Russian Circles devotee. Thankfully most of the people who’ve come out to this isolated warehouse in the middle of goddamn nowhere on a wet Saturday night sit somewhere in the middle, ensuring a dense population for both of tonight’s weighty sets.

Chelsea Wolfe takes the stage first, but the wait on her getting there is agony. Only after a lengthy Gorecki intro is swamped by a growing sonorous clamour does she emerge and take up the mic for ‘Feral Love’, a gothily sensual ditty that sways and swoons like a monkey dosed on whisky and codeine. Early cuts from Pain Is Beauty show off not only a diverse style that takes on board her formative work as well as touches of the darker side of 80s electro, but they also push her band to the fore. Kevin Dockter’s droning rush is claustrophobia-inducing while Dylan Fujioka’s ceaseless percussion is, to be blunt, devastating. It’s often as propulsive as the songs themselves, yet it doesn’t steal the show. It knows its place, and is content to loom in the background, monstrous and patient.

If her later work is a sign of her development as a songwriter, it’s the return of staples like ‘Tracks (Tall Bodies)’ and ‘Moses’ that nail the performance. The airy, waifish Wolfe is fascinating enough but, given a guitar, she takes on a new strength that largely stems from the fact that it’s something she seems more comfortable with, whether due to mere familiarity or the fact that the focus isn’t as completely placed on her spectral lilt. Commanding yet airy, the familiar fragility in her wavering voice lends the sparse melodies an even greater air of tragedy, provoking genuine emotion in a culture more attuned to cut-and-paste sentiment. A solitary encore performance of ‘Lone’ proves a thing of stark beauty, haunting and mesmeric, and surely pulls a large portion of the trucker-capped crowd over to her camp.

You have to wonder whether, if Russian Circles and Chelsea Wolfe were not label mates, they would be touring together at all? Opening to a swell of drone and a spare guitar line, the first few seconds of ‘309’ might suggest they’re not too dissimilar but that’s about as far as any comparison gets as it explodes into a dark, twisted swell of distortion, shifting tempos and swift destruction courtesy of Dave Tumcrantz’s ferocious drumming, the room settling into a darkness that’s as much to do with the atmosphere as the lighting. It reels and sways languidly, surfaces to eradicate crowd fatigue with sheer bombast, and slinks back into the murk.

Many instrumental bands tend to flag when it comes to emotional content due to the inherent difficulty in expressing such complex concepts without the use of language, a tool which we are taught from birth to utilise when and wherever possible, but this trio have turned this into their secret weapon. It’s hard not to pick up on Harper Lewis’s tense air with the gravelly prowl of Brian Cook’s basswork, making its chug-a-chug crush so overwhelming when it hits that you wish it could keep hammering on for the next hour, and the bright, tapped melodies of ‘Mlàdek’ give such a rush of euphoric glee that it’s a wonder heads don’t split along the seams from smiling, the brisk rolls and upbeat swing of Tumcrantz only enhancing the light mood. It’s cinematic, not in the Mono sense where high drama is the order of the day, but more that there is a feeling of narrative, where they pull you through scenes and vignettes, provoking these instantaneous reactions as you pass. It’s just that rather than use cameras and actors, they use expansive, shifting song structures and a shitload of volume.

They do their best to cover all the bases as far as their back catalogue goes, delving as far back as Enter to deliver ‘Carpe’s mathematically oppressive swells, while astounding new album Memorial gets three cuts, including a somewhat inevitable Glasgow debut of its title track, with Chelsea Wolfe returning to the stage for the only vocal intrusion of the set. Sombre and unsettling, it’s a wonderful song but given the strength of Wolfe’s presence, it feels more like Russian Circles guesting on one of her own tracks, rather than the opposite. Still, they find the time to squeeze in a final, monumental run-through of ‘Youngblood’, another tense and urgent piece that builds up to a one-chord thrash that takes on a Slayer-esque aggression, the seats at the back rumbling under Cook’s contributions. Faultlessly executed and lethally heavy at points, it eliminates any chance of a single person leaving here disappointed. If Chelsea managed to convince a few more to join her still-growing throng of followers, Russian Circles have, on the strength of tonight, drafted an army.

Scribed by: Dave Bowes