Monday, December 31, 2012

An Autumn For Crippled Children - Only The Ocean Knows (2012)

So much can be made of the word "experimental" being tacked on to any subgenre of metal. It doesn't always make it new and exciting, nor is it indicative of what the band is trying to do. What it is, rather, is a way of something that they don't want to be like everyone else. An Autumn For Crippled Children, a melodic black metal band from the Netherlands, is a prime example of how experimentation and creativity can reap huge benefits. Rather than sit back and play generic songs day in and day out, this three pieces has refined their sound, and taken things in a different direction. On "Only The Ocean Knows," their third album in three years, they look to take another step out of the shadows, and into the light; both literally and figuratively.

The lead off track, "Past Tense," is the band at their best. They waste no time building an atmospheric haze around you, through the use of airy guitar chords and a bevy of percussion. The entire sound is bolstered by the fact that they have left the mix slightly rough around the edges, creating peaks and valleys in the production. There is a conflicting set of moods at play here, which only make the track more enjoyable. The air of happiness in the bass line is countered so sharply by the coarse vocals. Even the outro portion, strengthened by a sliding, high pitched guitars and a wild set of double kicks, is well conceived in its contrast. The foundation having been set, tracks like "Yes I Know…Love and Death…Always" are the perfectly evolution for the band, without leaving behind everything you know about their sound. The muddled recording does hurt at times, and the keyboard element that works so well here and there suffers as a result. But for every moment where things become too cloudy, they return to form almost as quickly. With softer moments built in to each piece, you have a constant give and take for light and dark.

Never short on style, tracks like "This Garden These Trees" remind us of how eclectic black metal and bands of that ilk can be. With a strong melody and wandering strings accompanying the always busy drum patterns, you have a marriage of beauty and beast that lingers. This is the delicate side of things, building something that is both imaginative and strong. The same themes run through the haunting intro to "In February," a slow, cold opening to a track that cold fit perfectly into a snow storm. It is the vocals that remain raw here, as the instrumental takes a decidedly more complex and rich tone. Whether it is the constant note that lingers behind it all, or the softly strummed clean chords, there is something deeper going on here. As a result, you get something that may sit atop their catalog. Completing a strong trio of songs, the title track is equally as impressive. Keyboards star here, setting a mood that may actually induce a sway out of you. In that signature light and shadow way, they manage to take an instrumental that might warrant a lighter or two, and pair it with a vocal that sounds as though it was retrieved from the pits of hell. This melodic take on black metal suits them well, especially with subtle electronic touches scattered in the latter stages.

If the weather outside of your window mirrors "The First Snow This Year," you should consider yourself lucky. It is staggering how perfectly the band has captured that event in sonic form. It is an effort that deserves a visual companion; one that is elevated by that element. It's as if you can separate the two pieces, vocal and musical, into two distinct elements of the storm. The light guitars and pattering of drums are the snowflakes, falling gently in the wind. The vocal, harsh and raspy, as the chilling wind that blows. With a much more clean approach, "Uncureable" is probably the most exciting track on the album for most metal fans. The tempo has increased, thanks to some intricate played drums, and the light and dark have come together to form a shaded area. It would be like taking the art rock styles of dredg, and infusing Burzum vocals into it all. For a more trippy effect, take the five minute finale, "The Rising Tide." With the synthesizers taking a more front and center role, their effect is felt early and often. Their power can be felt in each movement of the song, coating the entire mix with something more sublime than before.

Watching the evolution of a band over the course of their career is something more people should appreciate, rather than condemn. With this, their third album in three years, An Autumn For Crippled Children have taken the next logical step in their development. By adding in that extra layer of melody, whether through the use of electronics, keyboards, or just simple guitar notes, they have reinforced everything that makes them strong. This is the same band that we heard on "Lost" and "Everything," but with a sense of maturity and intelligence that has developed along with them. In a genre crowded with people doing the same old thing, it is nice to see a band stepping out of that mold and giving us all a taste of where they've been, and where they are going. I suppose "Only The Ocean Knows" is where we go from here.


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