Another prolific outfit here with their origins rooted firmly within the post-black metal sound, this Dutch three piece have issued four previous full-lengths since their inception in 2008 – an impressive work-rate by anyone’s standards. Number five ‘The Long Goodbye’ follows hot on the heels of 2013’s enveloping ‘Try Not To Destroy Everything you Love’ and is very much adhering to the time-honoured mantra ‘if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it’.
Yes, whilst 2014 saw a host of bands begin to move away from the solidified parameters of post-black metal and firmly nail their colours to various disparate genre masts, ‘The Long Goodbye’ sees An Autumn for Crippled Children continuing to plough the furrow of their distinctive take on the genre. Layers of shrill, fuzzed-out guitar, spluttering drums that never settle for conventional extreme metal patters, heavily-distorted vocal shrieks and prominent warm synths – all of these ingredients are here and present on this most recent record.
If it sounds like there’s a whiff of familiarity here, that’s because there is, frankly. Opening with the upbeat title track, we’re right back where ‘Try Not…’ left off – the sound might be a touch more harsh and abrasive here but otherwise, we’re in comfortable territory. A pulsing post-punk drumbeat underpins Mchl’s treble-heavy guitar work and uncompromising screams whilst the roving basslines of Td (a highlight of the previous two albums) are all present and correct. It’s effective enough but there is a vague hint of deja-vu about proceedings.
‘Converging Towards the Light’ is more interesting, switching off the guitar fuzz for a moment and bringing some more reflective melancholy into the mix. A similar approach on ‘Only Skin’ also reaps dividends, the ethereal synths and slower pace weaving a convincing atmosphere of loss and tragedy. Elsewhere though, the band feel to be drifting through the motions a little – ‘A New Form of Stillness’ and ‘Gleam’ for example feel somewhat recycled, a band who have very much forged their own sound just re-treading old ground – resting on their laurels even.
In addition, the harshness of the guitars and distorted voices begin to grate after a while – in all honesty, aside from the shrieked vocals and guitar distortion, there’s very little genuinely rooted in the trappings of metal here anyway. Sceptical as I have been about the number of bands that have been all too keen to jettison their metal roots recently, it could be that An Autumn for Crippled Children may actually benefit from moving away from the extremity still present in their sound. This is underlined by album closer ‘The Sleep of Rust’ which belies the trebly fizz of its delivery with a melancholic synth line not too dissimilar to the more sombre moments of 80s synth merchants The Pet Shop Boys (which is NOT an insult!).
Given that the more affecting songs here are the slower, cleaner numbers it could be that An Autumn for Crippled Children need to emphasise this part of their sound. Of course, the melding of the harsh and the ambient has been one of their distinctive and defining features these past few years but I personally feel that ‘The Long Goodbye’ – whilst not being a bad album by any means – represents the last drops of invention being wrung from this approach. The next album will tell.
(7/10 Frank Allain)