Monday, October 7, 2013

As Autumn Calls - Cold, Black & Everlasting (2013)

There is some degree of pride involved in listening to a band before they make their big splash. We are all metal hipsters at heart, really. Yet there is that lingering part of us that wants our favorite underground bands to make it big; whether that be for their own good, or just so we can utter those words, "I liked them before they were big." Regardless of the reason, the time always seems imminent. As Autumn Calls have done everything right thus far, enough at all to have garnered themselves more attention than their Facebook following would indicate. They are as musically diverse as any and all in the doom sphere, adding new meaning to the atmospheric front of the genre. For more than two years, we've sat and eagerly awaited their next move, a long worked on and advertised follow up to the masterpiece that was "An Autumn Departure." Finally, Canada's answer to their own pop music transgressions has arrived. Was it worth the wait? Maybe "Cold, Black & Everlasting" will be that breakthrough we've waited for; and they deserve.

It seems fitting, at least, that the piano intro to "Haunting" not only begins the album on a chilling note, but also bring to life the album artwork itself. The distortion heavy verse sections would be more than enough to pull in the most discerning listener, but it is the shifting acoustic passages that do the most powerful work. For every point, a counter point. For every grating growled vocal, a clean one. It's contrast at it's best, an exercise in melodic sensibility and creativity. Those moments aren't limited to vocals, however; they extend to the leads, as well, a single thread that runs throughout the nearly eleven minute track. It is worth noting than the time in which the album was constructed, a period of two years, has led to tremendous growth in every aspect of their sound. The clean vocals on "Black Night Silent" are moving and refined, laid ever so gently atop a whining guitar lead. This is time for the rhythm section to shine, managing to still maintain a level of heaviness, even in down tempo times. By now means is an explosion out of the question; it comes in the latter half, blasting kick drums welcoming back a deep growl. It is the start of something bigger.

"These Doleful Shades," for all twelve minutes of it's reign, is as masterful a doom track as we've heard to date. It nails down the balance between airy atmospherics and downtrodden gloom, while somehow never letting go of the melodic silver lining. It feels effortless, the transitions from woeful to blaring and intimidating. The last third of the track sees the band take a darker turn, inflicting their own brand of pain onto the listener with an onslaught of drums and unbridled screams. There is something to be said about an album following a central theme, and this album does that with tremendous subtlety and skill. Everything ties back into that artwork, with "The Light That No Longer Shines" keeping that dark wooded scene fresh in your mind. The song has a quality that is difficult to voice, one that allows you to sway with the beat, without becoming predictable and one dimensional. No one element dominates the others, as they come together in a beautiful, albeit fractured harmony. It's impact, as a result, grows in leaps and bounds. The last distorted notes fade, pulling you along with them into a momentary silence.

The final series of tracks, all rooted in the darkness, are easily lumped together. By no means does this mean a lack of diversity between them; quite to the contrary, they merely share a common theme. "Darkness Reflected" has one of the more intoxicating melodies on the album, despite finding itself in a sea of ringing distortion. But as it emerges just after the two minute mark, the band hits a chord here that rings true. Simplicity reigns supreme, delivering something digestible, repeatable, and wholly impressive. It reminds as that the shortest track on the album doesn't have to be bereft of depth. The outro alone is a defining moment. Having been reflected, the darkness is now confined in the second piece of the trilogy, returning to the beautiful melodic roots in the opening. Lightly strummed acoustic strings blend so well with the single electrified lead, something few bands have managed to truly perfect. But here the clean bolsters the distorted and vice versa. And once again, there is a dynamic shift for the closing minute, one that ignites the fire before the finale. And as the closing track, "Darkness Everlasting" is everything you would expect from a band at the cusp of greatness. They hit their most emotionally charged notes here, both in the acoustic and vocal capacities. It reinforces the personal investment made by the band, and passed along to the listener through a series of clouded guitars, drums, and lyrics.

Perhaps one day, we will be the one to determine if and when a band has "made it." It would be both an honor and a horror for you and I both. But until that day, we can merely express an opinion. We weigh the pros and cons of each and every album, looking for a way to quantify it. And As Autumn Calls have made that part of the process truly easy. Over the last 25 months, they not only grown as a band, but their music has grown in so many facets, that it is nearly impossible to list them all here. Notably, they have found themselves in rarefied air; they have reached a nirvana, of sorts, that allows them to combine clean and dirty in a way that just works. The scales are not tipped in one direction or the other; instead, they are perfectly balanced, steadfast and solid. But at no point do you know exactly what will come next. You might get a long, clean passage. Or it might be immediately dashed by a rousing break. You don't know when, or even if, it will come, but it is there, lingering, looking over your shoulder. Whatever your pleasure, you'll find it on "Cold, Black & Everlasting." And let we, the staff at Sorrow Eternal, be the first to declare that Canada's As Autumn Calls have new album; and they have made it.


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