During their previous seven studio albums, the Chicago-based instrumental trio Russian Circles traverses a diverse topography of sounds, moods and approaches with their limited arsenal of drums, bass and guitar. It's hard to chart an evolution in their sound when their records have always felt like well-curated playlists. It was not uncommon to hear drone-heavy meditations, dazzling prog drills, knuckle-dragging riff fests, haunting folk ballads and tension-boosting noise rock, all within the span of one album. Still, it's hard to ignore the progression from the pensive and intricate melodies of Enter (2006) to the layered distorted laments of Blood Year (2019). It's been a gradual sonic shift due to the band's rigorous touring schedule and a penchant for playing their more signature material on stage. But with their latest album, Gnosis, Russian Circles eschew the diverse terrain of their previous work and bulldoze a path through the most tumultuous and harrowing area of their sound.
As was the case for so many artists in the era of COVID, the obstacles of geography and isolation forced Russian Circles to re-evaluate their writing process. Rather than creating songs from fragmented ideas in the rehearsal room, full songs were written and recorded separately before being shared with other members, preserving their original vision. While these demos spanned the full breadth of the band's varied styles, the more cinematic compositions were eventually cut out in favor of the physically purifying pieces.
Gnosis is engineered and mixed by Kurt Ballou. Drums and bass were recorded at Electrical Audio in Chicago to maximize the rhythm section's natural room sounds. Guitar and synth overdubs were performed at God City in Salem, MA to take advantage of Ballou's vast inventory of amps and effects pedals. Despite the entire album being written remotely, the songs were recorded with the full band playing together to maintain the live feel of the material. Due to the climate of the time and a new writing method, Russian Circles created their most smoking and focused work to date – an album that prefers the expulsion of two years of tension over the melancholy and restraint that often colored their previous efforts.