Traditionally, a memorial is a place for reflection; a locus where we're able to go not only to contemplate the events of the past, but to allow ourselves the opportunity to carry the emotional weight that accompanies them. With their fifth album, the aptly titled Memorial, Chicago instrumentalists Russian Circles craft an album that fully, and mostly wordlessly, explores this idea of a specific, controlled space where one is supposed to let their feelings run wild. Continuing to explore the expansive and metallic sound of the brilliant Empros, the band's music seems to really capture this duality, offering up a series of tightly constructed tracks that seem to surge with catharsis and sadness, creating a musical tempest in a teapot. Without vocals, this kind of pathos can be hard to evoke without a direct way to connect with the listener, but as they so often do, Russian Circles rise above the norm to imbue their instrumental musings with the kind of emotional hooks that dig themselves into the listener quickly and effectively. Not looking to be slaves to their rather excellent formula, however, Memorial finds the band making an interesting change by way of a guest appearance from Chelsea Wolfe on the album's titular closing track. After an album of instrumentals that weaved between chilling heaviness and haunting quiet, the singer's ethereal voice feels even more delicate, as if it were a wisp of smoke that could be waved away by even the slightest movement. This provides Memorial with a beautiful denouement that makes for an album that's not only satisfying, but one of the band's strongest works to date.
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AllMusic Review by Gregory Heaney