Review Summary: (Subtly) shedding skin
Seven years, six LPs, three EPs, mysterious identities, no live shows and lyrics still undisclosed. An Autumn For Crippled Children is a secretive but busy entity that keeps on giving, a trusted yearly appointment for everyone who's into this "blackgaze" movement. AAFCC is moving on a steady road. Admittedly, not the most typically exciting one; the critique of repetition has been ever present and it's understandable why. Yet, the band is actually moving. Slowly but steadily drifting away from a depressive black metal mentality in favor of a more post rock influenced one as confirmed again by their new opening track "Eternal Youth", while always oozing with shoegaze.
As a consequence, Eternal
isn't a drastic departure from the band's recent offerings. But place it right next to the debut album Lost
and the evolution is evident, with MCHL's furious shrieks being the last real link to black metal. It's due to this broadening of the band's soundscape that we can actually see AAFCC as a "band". What makes them special is that it does feel like a real ensemble without machines is playing beneath the music. The identities may be unknown, but personality isn't lacking at all. This is best shown by the rhythm section: CHR's drumming is energetic and diverse throughout the album far from the genre clich√©s, while TD's warm bass playing fills the tracks with character and a certain taste that one may not expect in a release of this kind.
Still for many the protagonist will be MCHL. His tortured screams are a trademark of the band's sound, the conviction with which they're delivered makes them evocative and the need to understand the lyrics isn't really felt. The keyboards (duty shared with TD) aren't relegated to mere background, and his guitar playing is the key element in the distorted wall of sound, often but not always resorting to tremolo picking. Everything shines in the track "Swallowed by Night's Despair" which, at barely 3 and a half minutes, is the band's catchiest and arguably most accessible offering to date, while its upbeat intro riffing makes it one of Eternal
's most memorable moments.
Speaking of that, AAFCC's latest release offers some instrumentally uplifting and lively material like "This Small Space You Occupied Is So Empty Now" or "On Fire", along the lines of some parts of last year's The Long Goodbye
. Obviously slower pieces are still present and occupy a consistent portion of Eternal
, like the chilling "Days of Sleep" with its mysterious atmosphere and slow, wandering guitar line. All in all the album sound can be described through its cover artwork. Take the colorful floral imagery of Try Not to Destroy Everything You Love
and fuse it with the gloomier scenery of The Long Goodbye
. Because that's how Eternal
sounds, a coexistence of the band's shoegaze peak (which is the former) and more direct music, introduced in the latter.
Anyway, this sixth full length isn't likely to change many minds about the "aren't they sounding stale already"" question, because the sense of repetition is becoming harder to defend due to the safety of various tracks. But those who have already been captured by the trio's formula will find another rich set of tracks packed with details. All things considered Eternal
isn't a dramatic step from The Long Goodbye
but, at the band's pace, it's one made in a favorable open-ended direction. It's interesting how the band keeps going on by tweaking their formula little by little, but how long will the fans keep on being interested when the music stays this samey" It's time to throw them a curveball.