Russian band Echoes and Signals first came to my attention, as I’m sure was the case for many others, after Marjana Semkina (of iamthemorning) let her followers know that she provided vocals on their second full length album, Monodrama. That track stood out for the vocal presence, as Echoes and Signals, like so many other post-rock bands, are a largely instrumental affair. But don’t let that last sentence give you the wrong idea, as Echoes and Signals are not like so many other post-rock bands. In fact, I’ve often hesitated to call them a post-rock band at all. I like a lot of post-rock, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of it is very safe and sticks firmly to a formula. You can hear what’s coming long before it arrives. This sort of post-rock isn’t necessarily unenjoyable, but it’s definitely unsurprising. I don’t mind signposts when I’m listening to music, but it’s always more enjoyable to not know quite where I’m being taken. Echoes and Signals seem to share this preference, and the previous album was all about the journey, and not the destination.
Monodrama had a real lightness of touch about it, deftly and delicately playing with dynamics, and presenting an aural equivalent of the beautiful and tranquil watery cover art. There was a sense of movement and flow, but it was never quite clear where one was being taken. Rather, there was the idea to just drift, and be taken where I was taken without worrying or wondering where that might be. I was enchanted by it, and immediately sought out the band’s debut full length V (presumably so named as it was their fifth release). I actually prefer V to Monodrama, as even though the latter is a far more mature and assured sounding release, I quite like the rawer sound of V. It provides a greater contrast between the beautiful and delicate interludes, and the heavier main tracks. There’s no way you could call those interludes filler as they are as integral to the album as the “intermissions” of iamthemorning. Actually, the two bands that V reminds me of most are iamthemorning and Anekdoten – which perhaps just goes to show how far from more “normal” post-rock Echoes and Signals are.
So why this lengthy preamble? Merely to make it clear that I have been a fan of the band for some time, and am familiar with their previous releases, because when I first heard Mercurial, I wondered if I were even listening to the same band. Their previous releases had all slightly differed from each other, but the differences had never been as marked as this. I may have hesitated to call them a post-rock band in the past, but in the end it was the most pragmatic label to give them. There was always prog in the post-rock mix of Echoes and Signals, but with Mercurial, it seems they’ve now pretty much left the post-rock behind. There are still traces, but honestly this album just sounds so different. It’s taken a long time and a lot of listens to decide I actually like this more than anything else the band has previously released. I suspect anyone new to the band will have a more instant reaction and attraction to the album.
Of the original trio, only Fedor Kivokurtsev (guitars, vocals) and Alexey Zaytsev (bass, keyboards) remain. Leo Margarit (Pain of Salvation) takes up the drummer’s seat left vacant by Yaroslav Egorov. It’s hard to compare the two, simply because the style of music has changed so much. Before listening to this, I was a little worried about the guest “star drummer”, as part of the fluidity of sound of Monodrama, for example, was because of the superb rhythm section of Alexey and Yaroslav, which allowed Fedor’s guitar to flow over the top. But with the change in style being so great, it’s a bit of a moot point, and Leo certainly delivers the goods with panache and passion. There are definitely no complaints here! But one of the biggest changes is the vocals, because Echoes and Signals is definitely no longer an instrumental band! Every track has vocals, and Fedor has a very fine voice that is an absolute pleasure to listen to. Mercurial takes the darkness from V and the sophistication of Monodrama, and combines them beautifully.
In every way, it’s hard to deny that Mercurial has raised the bar significantly, but I have no doubt the journey is far from over. The previous mix of psychedelic, post-rock and prog has given way to something closer to prog metal. Where I might have been reminded of Pink Floyd or Porcupine Tree on earlier releases, it is now more like Riverside or Indukti. Where I might have been reminded of iamthemorning or Anekdoten, it is now Queensrÿche or Tool. Which is not to say the band ever sounded particularly like the former, nor that they now sound particularly like the latter, but it gives some indication of how much the band has changed in sound, while still retaining some of the same aspects that allows them to maintain their identity. I might have initially been so surprised by what I heard, that I wondered if it were the same band, but it didn’t take long to recognise this was the Echoes and Signals I loved. They have merely taken me along on another unexpected turn on their journey. And make no mistakes about it, Echoes and Signals are still very much about the journey, and not the destination. I hope it is many years yet, and many more fine albums, before we reach that destination – wherever it may be.
01. Darkness (4:57)
02. Tower (8:29)
03. Broken Machine (10:12)
04. In Transition (5:18)
05. Chaos (4:25)
06. Mirror (7:53)
07. Dust (10:02)
Total Time – 51:16
Fedor Kivokurtsev – Guitars, Vocals
Alexey Zaytsev – Bass, Keyboards
Leo Margarit – Drums
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Russia
Date of Release: 9th April 2021