Label: Prosthetic Records
Release Date: 21st May 2021
For Fans Of: Deafheaven, Alcest, Paradise Lost
The early 2010s were an interesting time for black metal, at least the most interesting since the likes of Enslaved and Deathspell Omega began twisting this staunchly conservative style into bold new directions in the new millennium. However, whereas the defining elements of that era were prog and symphonic music, this later scene was notable for its injection of post-rock and (somewhat controversially) shoegaze. Many of these groups like Wolves In The Throne Room, Alcest and most importantly Deafheaven have gradually become part of the wider metal tapestry, but in digging further underground you’ll find the home of Holland’s An Autumn For Crippled Children. Jumping on the post-black metal wave when it was barely a ripple and maintaining a steady stylistic course over the past ten years, this illusive band brings forth their latest effort, As The Morning Dawns We Close Our Eyes, through Prosthetic Records.
Winter and black metal go hand in hand, a thematic pairing which has come to define the entire subgenre in many ways. AAFCC have fully immersed themselves in this concept with As The Morning Dawns…, the sonics rush past like an icy blast while the frigid, pattering drums serve as a clear nod to Cold World’s frozen depressive masterpiece Melancholie2. The vocals are way back in the mix, purveying the sense of standing atop a mountain and shrieking into the void, set amongst spacious yet satisfyingly raw instrumentals. Somewhat subversively, the band’s use of synths creates a far more understated musical dynamic than the likes of Dimmu Borgir’s symphonic excesses, giving the whole thing a subtly gothic flavour without losing any of AAFCC’s epic leanings.
Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends. Despite excelling in terms of sonics, there is an unfortunate lack of strong musical ideas across the board on As The Morning Dawns…. The key melodies, though interesting, are repeated endlessly over the course of almost every track, producing a hypnotic quality at the expense of listener engagement. This, along with extremely minimal structural shifts, serves only to compound the impression that these ideas really weren’t all that great to begin with. The overwhelming majority of the album rolls past in a pillowy blur, leaving the listener craving something more substantive, further marred by limp instrumental performances which lack the primal fire that defines great black metal. The opener ‘Carefully Breathing’ falls victim to the aforementioned repetition issue while ‘Of Your Light’ makes cool use of strings and (oddly enough) what appears to be a steel drum, yet still lacks that spark for the emotional punch it’s aiming for. Even by this point at track two, everything has begun to blend together like waves of crescendos which simply fizzle out before the next one fades in – a dire situation from a genre which lives and dies on its emotional peaks and valleys.
Thankfully, towards the end of the record, things begin to pick up with ‘Last Night I Believed In You’ and the excellent ‘Melancholia’, a beautifully fuzzed out, glittering tune which condenses the very best elements of blackgaze into a neat four-minute package. It provides a much needed musical lift and sticks with you after the record is over – even if it’s due to an onset of musical stockholm syndrome created by the rest of the album. In spite of these last ditch efforts, there is a pervading sense of too-little-too-late about them to truly lift As The Morning Dawns… out of its own dirge.
It truly brings no joy to talk about this release in such dismissive terms, yet it is congruent with the rest of AAFCC’s back catalogue in terms of sound and composition, so in that case they succeeded. However, it’s hard not to compare As The Morning Dawns… to modern greats like Sunbather, Jord, Mammal and Kodama, to which it certainly does not stand up. The idea of a gothic blackened post-rock record is a neat idea which is conceptually intriguing, but it’s hard to get away from the fact that the music itself leaves much to be desired.
Recommended Track: ‘Melancholia’