So the highly regarded Dutch three-piece return with their third album in two years and even a cursory listen reveals that it very much appears that this whole ‘post Black Metal’ thing is alive and well. Indeed, it really does seem that the once eyebrow-raising idea of fusing 90s shoegaze, 80s guitar wave and 00’s post-rock elements with black metal has become a solidified and established sub-strata of the genre. To put it crudely – the hipsters are here to stay, guys. There’s not a spike or a bullet belt in sight here.
And to be honest, if they’re going to continue to produce works such as ‘Only the Ocean Knows’ with such apparent ease then frankly, thank fuck for that. ‘An Autumn for Crippled Children’ present us with a more lo-fi sound than some of their more polished, shimmery peers but this merely adds to the sincerity of their expression. Walls of fizzy guitar and distant, distorted vocals bring Xasthur instantly to mind but the delay-soaked cleans and roving, prominent bass are STRAIGHT out of the Chameleons/Slowdive book of songwriting.
It’s a compelling mix and one that – for the most part – really works. ‘The First Snow This Year’ sets the tone, sibilant synths underpinning the reflective soundscapes. ‘In February’ however really gets things going by dropping one of the best riffs of the year, all chiming guitars and meandering bass counterpoint. From this point on, AAFCC are firing on all cylinders – particularly impressive are the nods to early-80s guitar wave with both ‘Past Tense’ and ‘The Rising Tide’ demonstrating a real sense of the sparse, jangly, driving desolation that made the works of bands such as Joy Division so compelling.
The Dutchmen walk a clever line between homage and inspiration however – despite the references, this is no exercise in mere nostalgia with the band bringing their own defined of rasping despair to proceedings. The tasteful percussion serve only to underpin the compositional thoughtfulness so prevalent on ‘Only the Ocean Knows’. Indeed, it’s a testament to the quality of these pieces that a rare slip-up (the twee piano line on ‘Uncureable’ that really does come across as a Mogwai B-side) is so noticeable!
Conceived and delivered with obvious care and precision, ‘Only the Ocean knows’ is another fine entry not only in the canon of ‘post’ black metal but black metal in general.
(8.5/10 Frank Allain)