How can anyone outside of the band itself ever say which piece of work best represents their sound? Influences and inspiration change, and each album a band releases should represent that. An Autumn For Crippled Children are not the same band they were in 2010, at the time of their debut album. That band no longer exists; they've grown, changed, evolved into the modern melodic black metal band they are today. Sure, you will still hear fleeting moments of the band that once was, but even those are different. You can never go back in time to rediscover that sound. And thankfully, in this case, you wouldn't want to. Having fine tuned every aspect of their music in the last three years, this is a band looking forward, not backwards. They've introduced new wrinkles to familiar formulas, pushing themselves toward the next evolutionary step. And with this, their forth album in three years, they have found a plateau that they could stand comfortably on for a decade. The introspective and daring "Try Not To Destroy Everything You Love" is the missing link.
Having taken such giant leaps on their previous effort, it stands to reason that they would come right out of the gate at a similar rate. Not to be disappointed, "Autumn Again" is a blustery piece of modern black metal, but that would be an oversimplification. The use of keyboards and synthesizers is astoundingly effective here, often offsetting the raw power of both the drums and vocals. The percussion elements seem reckless but their foundation is strong, akin to some of the more daring post-rock bands from the far east. The beats are nothing if not deliberate, with tracks like "The Woods Are On Fire" making the most of every solitary drum stick movement and kick. They have found their niche between aggression and transcendence, a foot hold that grows with every sweep keyboard melody. So much so, in fact, that it would not be a stretch to declare this to be the best track of their catalog so far. It is a statement of direction; not a new one or change in one, but a firm step down a path. The atmospheric backing is haunting, while the chilling screams, such as on "Never Complete," are just as raw and jagged as they were when the band began.
There are obvious departures from the past on the album, as well. The title track, for instance, has an opening that is as much jazz club groove as it is anything else. The light tapping of cymbals provides ample support to a bass led melody, a fitting calm before the storm moment. The aforementioned storm, while not up to the magnitude the analogy invites, is enough to displace a few hairs on your head with gusts of distortion. Everything blows and swirls around that central framework, the one so carefully crafted with the growing keyboard presence. It would be difficult not to acknowledge the art-rock qualities that seem present throughout the flow of the album, whether it be the outro to the title track, or the intro to "Hearts Of Light." This may not be a softer band than we have known, but it is a band expanding their influence and, more importantly, their musical output. You'll find a great deal of sincerity buried in the screams, just as much as each singular piano key. That is an attraction that is hard to manufacture; heavy music isn't always heralded for it's ability to bring out emotion. And while "Sepia Mountains For Her Lament" is the shortest track on the album, it is also the most breathtaking. It speaks volumes with every snare, every synthesized note.
The depth of the album isn't even evident by this point, needing the final trio of songs to make it complete. "Closer" is as explosive a track as you'll find on this disc, reverting back into the wild drum patterns of the early stages of the album, without ever losing that firm grip and bass driven leads. The segment that comes just after the three minute mark could just as easily be attributed to a band like Te or dredg, harnessing every ounce of power in each instrument to pull you into the swirling winds. Through a series of mood and tempo changes, they convey strength and emotion, without any lyric sheet necessary. With the dynamics of light and dark now fully at work, "Avoiding Winter" capitalizes at every turn. Whether it be the serene opening, which is beautiful in it's own right, or the first blast of distorted guitars that follow, each segment plays well off the one before and after it. Perhaps the most easily overlooked victory here is on a song like "Starlit Spirits," where the instrumental becomes so expansive, that it is almost too much to contain in one mix. Due to the nature of the music itself, we dismiss production; but here it should be celebrated.
Much in the way that we are not in charge of how a band progresses and changes throughout their career, we are also not in a place to demand anything. Yes, you miss the days when Metallica made music you wanted to hear. And yes, the last few Megadeth albums have been a great departure from anything close to listenable. But you can't reach back 15 years and recreate that sound. An Autumn For Crippled Children are proof that change can be a good thing, honing their own style into one that is strong, but delicate, vibrant, but subdued. It isn't that they've abandoned who they once were, all those years ago; they have just allowed their music to grow and change with them, as people. The raw has come face to face with the well rounded and smooth, and the results speak for themselves. There is, of course, a downside to any album that stakes a claim as the best in any one band's catalog; you'll never look at their other discs the same way again. But after "Try Not To Destroy Everything You Love," I think we can all be perfectly content with that.
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