After a ten year plus slumber the return of Autumn Tears with EP ‘The Origin Of Sleep’ was a more than welcome one. The neo-classical US based collective had really made their mark on the fringes of our musical world with their early albums and had soothed many a savage heart offering a different type of music that some dyed in the wool headbangers would ever have possibly encountered. Considering composer Ted Tringo had ties to Krieg in the past this was a whole different musical cosmos. One gets the feeling that time out was not wasted and everything was leading up to this magnificent opus. There are no less than 30 musicians and singers arranged on Colors Hidden Within The Gray and the ensemble with members from such eclectic groups as Maudlin Of The Well and Rain Fell Within are joined by a host of different instrumentalists and vocalists. So what you are going to hear if you take the challenge, which you really should do, are not the normal bass, guitar etc but (here goes) cellos, viola, violins, flute, clarinet, French horn, trumpet, trombone, harp, timpani, Kamancheh, bansuri (yeah I looked the last couple up), medieval bagpipes and drums. This huge array of sounds are presented over 14 tracks and an hours-worth of music.

However you should not go into this expecting a huge bombastic force, everything is subtle and quite delicate, the musicians and vocalists are not there to overplay their parts but just to charm and soothe with gorgeous tones and melodies. We are gently eased in by the short three pieces of ‘A Pulse In The Celestial Sphere.’ The ethnic instruments take to a distant land citing world music before the harmonious choral parts begin to flow with very feminine textures. It’s exotic and beguiling as neo classical and chamber music from times gone by flirt with a more modern soundscape. Although there are some dramatic flourishes with booming timpani and swirling violins as we go into more substantial numbers like ‘The Day Of Wrath’ and meet a rise in tempo the birdsong from the vocals and piano runs are still very dreamlike and any rises in percussive might are still unlikely to take you into a place of nightmares. You can get the ethos of how the sound may come across by titles such as ‘The Grieving’ a song full of sorrow and pain but beautifully unveiled from the heart by the vocalist. You may pick up a slight Celtic folk flow from the music on a song like this as it gently washes over you and you may also feel tears start to edge from the corner of your eyes. This is highly emotional heightened by stirring brass and has a very filmic feel to it. It’s not all doom and gloom though as the next song ‘Rainlight Ascension’ uplifts with gorgeous babbling vocals and poetic lyrics, there’s hope here and an almost pop like artistry that will possibly have you thinking of songs you may have heard elsewhere in more commercial affairs. Be prepared for it to latch into your head at the very least.

This is an album that demands time and concentration but it won’t be long before you are listening out for key motifs as it completely mesmerises. The performances are all top of their game and on a song such as ‘The Impressionist’ where the vocalists all combine and the rolling drums boom from the speakers you will find yourself captivated between the stirring motions and the peaceful fragrant contrasts found within the frond-like depths of the music. I don’t have the full breakdown of just who what does what but the elfin tones of the main vocalist on this track are just gorgeous and send a huge shiver down my spine. It is mainly feminine in the vocal department but not exclusively and this is just part of the charm of making you really listen to the music and peel back the layers looking for things. ‘Drift’ does just as you would expect, the instrumental having a beautiful lilting Celtic memory and ‘In Remembrance’ is a sombre reflective piece at first with dramatic storm clouds suddenly bringing tempestuous flair. It should be mentioned that the album is dedicated to Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson who passed away a year ago at just 48.

It is tempting to go into every song here and unlock a little bit of a mystery behind them but I am going to sit back and listen to the final 4 numbers and leave some things for you to discover for yourself. This is a pretty easy task for anyone with an hour to spare as the entire album is up for listening to on the group’s Bandcamp below. Take a break from a world of chaos and ugliness, press play and listen to the beauty unfold, you won’t be disappointed.

(8.5/10 Pete Woods)