Russian Circles' masterpiece was Geneva (2009). The writing was incredibly strong, with soaring, propulsive motion and a dark, steely, metal vision. The following Empros (2011) was nearly as good, but not as consistent. Unfortunately, if a line is drawn from the 5-star Geneva through the 4-star Empros and on to Memorial, it is a straight downward line.
Even the best tracks (Deficit, Burial, LeBaron) are not as compelling as the previous albums. Mike Sullivan, the guitarist, has acknowledged a black metal influence on the album, and this is evident on the three best tracks, with loud, intense riffs. The least impressive either repeat, slow, and stop ('777), or simply stop (Ethel) as though the band couldn't be bothered to develop it any more.
Overall, the problem is that the music is too simple and repetitive. The theme of "memorial" is present in the sandwiching of the opening and closing, using the same melody, with Sinead O'Connor-esque vocals on the latter by Chelsea Wolfe, and in the elegiac emotional tone of the droning "Cheyenne" and especially "Ethel."
The sequencing alternates between the slower, thematic material and the faster, heavier tracks, which are the album's best, but this variation is lacking for the most part within the individual tracks. The peak of the album in this sense is reached with the penultimate "LeBaron," which is the only thing here that approaches the higher level of the last two albums.
Devoted fans of the band may enjoy hearing new material, but for anyone else, this album is not in the same league as the previous two and is not essential.