Russian Circles

Monqui Presents

Russian Circles

Helms Alee, KEN Mode

Wed, March 5

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Wonder Ballroom

Portland, OR

$17.00 - $20.00

This event is all ages

Russian Circles
Russian Circles
Perhaps the most immediately apparent characteristic of the fifth Russian Circles album, Memorial is its wide range of emotion. Vacillating from somber-yet-soaring melodies on one track to pummeling metal heft on the next, Memorial sounds like an album with split personalities.

Where one song showcases guitarist Mike Sullivan, drummer Dave Turncrantz and bassist/keyboardist Brian Cook's mastery of lush melancholic melody, the next exhibits their most abrasive underground metal leaning sound, with washed-out 16th-note riffs and crushing rhythms. The band's penchant for endless hooks remains a constant, but Memorial embodies their most dramatic ranges in tone.

"We've always tried to balance our metal-influenced sounds with more nuanced, pretty, orchestral elements," Cook says. "But this time, it's far more polarized in that the heavy parts are much more blown out and exaggerated while the pretty moments are far more restrained, delicate, and atmospheric." In the two years since Russian Circles released their landmark fourth album Empros, the Chicago trio toured worldwide nearly incessantly, encountering many heavy acts whose music seemed needlessly complicated. "We set out to make a straightforward, intense, heavy record," Cook explains. "We subconsciously gravitated toward darker and more somber sounds. We wanted to get away from the overtly flashy."

In search of such a streamlined sound, the trio focused on each individual song having its own emotional and musical characteristics. As such, Memorial almost feels like stages of grief. That notion might be aided by 1) the album's clever structuring, in which it ends in the same place as it starts, and 2) special guest vocalist Chelsea Wolfe lending her hauntingly somber vocals to the album closing title track.

To a degree, the monolithic, juxtaposed moods on Memorial is the band's reaction to the proliferation of iPod culture affecting how bands write music. Today, most musicians are trying to mash together disparate elements with results sounding as unpalatable as cooking a meal blindfolded. Russian Circles wisely and deftly sidestep the trappings of genre amalgamation. "I want to hear a band with a broad palette," Cook says. "But it should find that weird balance with breadth and width. We wanted to make a record with more extreme peaks and valleys. I'm hoping that we can get away with making a schizophrenic record."

Those extremes are no more perfectly exemplified than on album opener "Memoriam", which leads in with delicately plucked guitar notes and synth haze hovering in the background, vaguely reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here album. But the mood abruptly ruptures as the next song, "Deficit" forcefully kicks in with a wall of vicious, treble-bleached guitars blaring over Turncrantz's half-time rhythm pummeling his drums with the sound of an industrial machine re-fabricating raw materials. Tension builds to a breaking point about halfway through, opening into a skull-thwacking chugging riff that becomes the foundation for multiple mutant variations slithering over the top. "1777" is possibly Russian Circles' most epic and perfectly streamlined song of all time, incorporating both the physical dynamics of the studio in its sound -- much like David Bowie's emotive vocals on "Heroes", but instead with drum beats and guitars jutting outward in dramatic fashion -- while also developing a slow-burn build of elements purely focused on the emotional specificity of the song. Elsewhere, the uplifting melody of "Ethel" features a chiming finger-tapping guitar line that's heavily treated with effects making it sound like a vintage synth laid over powerfully expressive drums and distorted bass notes cascading over the proceedings with the forceful cadence of a lead vocalist. Album closing title track, "Memorial" is a plaintive, somber ballad featuring Wolfe's guest vocals. A hazy version of the album opening guitar notes hang in the distance as Wolfe's reverb-soaked voice hovers above the dreamlike melody somewhat reminiscent of Julee Cruise's Twin Peaks theme song.

Memorial was recorded at the illustrious Electrical Audio studio in Chicago with the band's longtime producer Brandon Curtis of The Secret Machines & Interpol who also helmed the band's two previous albums, Empros and Geneva. Memorial will be available on LP, CD and download via Sargent House on October 29th, 2013.
Helms Alee
Helms Alee
Helms Alee's music is exactly the sort of mutant, fantastic hybrid that used to only occasionally erupt out of small, isolated scenes, uninformed by trends of the day — instead inspired by the band's own collective contributions. The Seattle trio's unique amalgam of metal, art rock, pop and punk is charmingly reminiscent of the fertile creativity that groups once had before the Internet seemed to instruct bands to only copy one another. Helms Alee's third album, Sleepwalking Sailors sounds like many styles combined into one, and none of it concerned with any notion other than creating vital, urgent and uniquely characteristic music.

Bassist/vocalist Dana James, drummer/vocalist Hozoji Matheson-Margullis and guitarist/vocalist Ben Verellen combine a vast array of ideas within a single song, while still sounding entirely cohesive. Their songs are undeniably heavy, but also freely roaming through icy post-punk and warm melodic haze at any given moment. Any given song can be pummeling one moment and then subtly shift into triply harmonies without the listener even realizing what has happened.

"The weird thing about it," Verellen muses, "is that we've got three different people contributing lyrics, parts and melodies to each song. So, they end up being disjointed by our individual input. We spent 3-1/2 years writing the songs for this album, so it's thematically all over the place."

Sleepwalking Sailors was recorded with engineer Chris Common (These Arms Are Snakes, Pelican, Chelsea Wolfe) in Seattle, with intentionally built-in limitations. "We recorded the album to tape in order to confine ourselves from ProTools refining every detail. We ended up with something that sounds really big, but also a bit more aggressive." Helms Alee's previous album Weatherhead was released in 2011 to much acclaim by their longtime label HydraHead just before it went under. Undaunted, and as a testament to the band's strong fan base, Helms Alee originally crowdfunded Sleepwalking Sailors, eventually raising an impressive recording budget. Upon hearing Common's early mixes, Sargent House quickly offered to bring the band onto their management roster and release the new album. Throughout the course of the album's creation, the band's independent aesthetic becomes clear: a dedication to truly representing themselves, regardless of trends and outside influence.

Album opener "Pleasure Center" kicks off with churning riffs and staccato drums that repeat and morph in a constant build that's equal parts Gang Of Four as it is early Soundgarden. The slithering and perfectly meshed distorted rattle of James' bass with Verellen's climbing, chiming single notes on "Tumescence" lead off with Neurosis style heft, but soon give way to compelling minor-key vocal harmonies laid over the proceedings. Elsewhere, James' and Matheson-Margullis' even more pop-hook leaning vocal harmonies lend a transcendence to the proceedings. "Pinniped" pits near chamber-pop group vocal harmonies against screaming, wailing guitar blasts and thumping tom drum beats. Throughout the album, Helms Alee prove that their unique creative spark is its greatest asset in creating incisive and insightful music.

Sleepwalking Sailors will be released everywhere worldwide on LP, CD and download on February 11th, 2014 via Sargent House.
KEN Mode
KEN Mode
Here's what a few magazines and publications have said about us:

"Veteran Winnipeg noise-rock trio KEN mode's Kurt Ballou-produced fourth album Venerable is one of the best records of 2011, bar none…From opener "Book Of Muscle" to closer "Make Shark," KEN mode mix AmRep toughness with heavy, doom-y melodies and angular, chiseled hardcore that pummels as well as it sticks easily, comfortably in your head…Think David Yow doing crunches, Unsane with more swing, a dirtier Helmet, a younger/hungrier (and Canadian) Today Is The Day." – Stereogum.com

"As I said in 2008, KEN Mode rules. If Unsane spent less time at Swans shows and more at hardcore matinees, they'd probably rip out noisecore obliteration like 2008′s Mennonite and 2006′s Reprisal" – Brooklynvegan.com

"If tertiary 2008 effort Mennonite revealed noisy metalli-rockers KEN Mode to be growing comfortable blazing their unique swath, Venerable turns that unbeaten path into a four-lane highway. The trio then put the hammer down and barrel forward with a menacing grin." – Exclaim! Magazine

"Earlier this year, on their first US tour in six years, KEN mode wrote a series of tour diaries for Decibel. After the magazine's recent site redesign, I can't find those diaries anymore. But I remember a particular detail from them. The band stopped somewhere for supplies (Wal-Mart, I think), and its shopping list included protein powder. Touring bands' shopping lists usually begin with beer and end at whiskey. Someone in the band is a jock, I thought. Which makes sense – when I listen to KEN mode, I think of a more athletic, yet more bookish Jesus Lizard. Maybe if that band had put down its beers, hit the gym, and boned up on the music it helped spawn – noise rock, hardcore, mathcore, even post-metal – then returned to whip the kids at their own game, it might sound like KEN mode. Venerable is indeed a protein powder-fueled beast." – Invisible Oranges

"This is how I know KEN Mode rule: I saw them play a virtually empty bar about five years ago and still remember that gig like it was yesterday. In this day and age, when half of what hits the stage when I decide to part with my precious time and leave the house doesn't even register, this is a triumph-and-a-half. …Not only do they sound like a raging beast wired on the up-tempo bits 'n' pieces of Unsane's discography, but in the case of much of the new material, KEN mode evoke the brutality of Unsane's Total Destruction and Unsane album covers brought to musical life." – Decibel Magazine

"With their debut 'Mongrel' and the stellar follow-up 'Reprisal', Canada's best kept secret established a reputation for perfection jagged, chest-tightening riffs that not only demanded your attention but commanded it as well. Consequently, they have a lot to live up to. Luckily, they've done it again… They've eased up on the straightforward drive 'er home Keelhaul heaviosity, while maintaining the mid-'90′s Black Cross punk meets Melvins undertone, and zoned in on the dissonant Kittens country quirks and Botch-flavoured guitar antics that had previously played second fiddle to the spirit of crushing riffage." – Terrorizer Magazine

"Winnipeg's KEN Mode have run a tight ship since their inception, resulting in two previous provocative and unforgettable releases. Yet even with the musical muscle showcased on Mongrel and Reprisal, there was still room to grow, to become more comfortable in their warped, artistic anti-rock/metal hybrid, as opposed to being consumed by the youthful tendency to prove themselves. With Mennonite however, we celebrate the power trio's bar mitzvah; they're grown men. Still uncompromising and heavy yet feature a few more laidback — for them — grooves and tracks that grow into the focal point rather than rage from start to finish, Mennonite accomplishes more in one track than even KEN Mode probably thought possible. Incredibly well rounded and gripping, the album rages through thick, drawn-out battles of emotional torment, strikes fast and deadly with two-minute shots of rage, seizes with bastardized pop metal bravado and mesmerizes thanks to the band's relaxed attitude and comfort in their skin." – Exclaim Magazine

"I'm not gonna try to demarcate what the hell these three Canucks are capable of in a song, but I'll say this: (KEN mode) should be ground-zero for you disillusioned souls looking for granite-heavy, solid 'heavy mental' that's as challenging as it is battering." – Metal Maniacs

"The daily grind (pun intended) at a school where geometry, heavy metal history and chaos theory are the only courses offered." – Alternative Press

"Although it shouldn't, it always somewhat surprises me that KEN Mode is able to expand on what they've already done. However, the fact that they are able to speaks volumes as to just how good this band is. This is noise-rock at its finest, if you haven't managed to check out KEN Mode yet then you are really missing out." – Built on a weak spot

"There are drummers and there are drummers. Then, there are drummers. Ken Mode's skin basher Shane Matthewson belongs to the latter kind; the ones that organize and gather the masses. The ones that make the difference and are, through skills and gusto, able to elevate the sound of a band from the above par to the outstanding. And kudos to the band too. Quite frankly I wasn't expecting a three piece to come off as potent as Ken Mode. Guitarist vocalist Jesse Matthewson (is this one musical family or what?) bends his axe in quasi mathematical manners, the riffs are played in Forrest Gump ping-pong speed angularity, shooting off in all directions and…the result is an explosive encounter between post hardcore and noise rock. " – Deaf Sparrow Zine

"Maybe too much noise-rock for the metal crowd and maybe too much metal for the noise-rock fans and definitely too much of everything for the pissy-pants hardcore-kids, but hey, what a great record." – Monochrom