Review Summary: It’s not without its faults, but Insomniac Doze is an admirable piece of work with some truly jaw-dropping moments.
For a quarter of a century, Envy have made a living by existing at the crossroads of gut-wrenching emo and ethereal post-rock. Their masterful use of dynamics and palpable atmosphere are the perfect foundation for renowned vocalist Tetsuya Fukugawa, capable of both soothing and wounding the listener with either his stirring spoken word or his punishing harsh vocal style. The two albums considered to be Envy’s best and brightest, 2001’s All the Footprints
and 2003’s A Dead Sinking Story
, succeed primarily because of how expertly Envy toe the line between malice and beauty, sometimes to the point of blurring it entirely and making the two coexist. Take, for example, a song like All the Footprints
’ “Lies, and Release From Silence”, in which the musical backdrop Fukugawa roars over feels almost heavenly in nature, despite its heavy distortion. This feeling is what has always separated Envy from the rest of the pack, and it’s the feeling that defines 2006’s Insomniac Doze
from top to bottom.
It makes all the sense in the world to view Insomniac Doze
as “Envy’s post-rock album”; the structures are longer and more sprawling, the crescendos more drawn out, and the songwriting more epic in scope. The album is definitely a step in a different direction, but throughout the tracklist, the band also repeatedly doubles down on what originally made them great. “Further Ahead of Warp” demonstrates this right out of the gate, courtesy of an ocean of distortion, relentless low end, furious drumming, and some of the most aggressive vocals Fukugawa had laid down up to that point in time. However, within the more tranquil moments of this song, the artistic evolution present on the record begins to reveal itself. Envy were no strangers to post-rock influences or quiet atmospherics prior to this release; songs like “A Cage It Falls Into” or their numerous spoken word sections are evidence of this. It’s the evolution of this aspect of their sound that makes Insomniac Doze
so captivating, as it no longer feels inherently connected to the inevitable bludgeoning to come at the end of a track’s runtime. These more ambient sections stand on their own two feet now, sometimes becoming the most interesting component of a piece, rather than just a gateway to the true meat of a song. “Scene” begins with an absolutely stunning clean section that it can’t help but return to multiple times, evoking peaceful images of the tides and warm sunshine. “Crystallize” takes the opposite route, barging into the picture with a titanic riff that somehow sounds like a Hum/Devin Townsend crossover event, before gradually relaxing into one of the most hypnotic sections of the album.
Yes, these songs build back up like most great post-rock songs do, and their payoffs are massive and well-earned. What Envy understands and internalizes here is that the payoff is only part of the journey, and will only be fully appreciated if every step was worth it. Closer “A Warm Room” proves that they can do it on a micro scale as well, packing the many ebbs and flows of a ten-minute epic into a compact five-minute package. It ties a bow on the album neatly while also managing to brutalize, allowing the two aspects of the band’s sound to converge in harmony. Unfortunately, not every step of this journey is as enthralling as those I’ve previously mentioned. A Dead Sinking Story
, while impressive at times, showcased Envy’s tendency to occasionally stretch songs out against their will, and beat ideas into the ground with overlong runtimes and repetition. “The Unknown Glow” suffers from these problems a great deal, and its 15-minute runtime feels bloated rather than epic and triumphant. On the other end of the spectrum, the 4-minute “Shield of Selfishness” is all well and good, but is incredibly by-the-numbers Envy and feels very out of place compared to the sound the band was going for on the rest of the tracklist.
When Insomniac Doze
hits, it hits hard, and offers some of the best material Envy have ever released. Its commitment to a departure in sound, as well as its faithfulness to the new ideas it experiments with, allow it to become a great success and earn its place as one of the band’s best and most complete albums. It’s not without its faults, but it’s an admirable piece of work with some truly jaw-dropping moments, and signaled a new era for one of Japan’s most storied underground artists.