And so we return to An Autumn for Crippled Children for their sixth full-length in as many years. I was reluctant to take Eternal, being acutely aware of the ultimatum I set following their last album: evolve or die. Their work was already stagnating, both within their discography and within the album itself for its highly consistent song structures. There is a formula for my feelings towards this successor. Take The Long Goodbye; add nearly 2 years; multiply by duller melodies. The result is a band struggling to maintain their niche within the blackgaze market and fading rapidly into both obscurity and irrelevancy. Eternal is unquestionably an appropriate title as one wonders if AAfCC will ever develop, as they drift at an unhurried pace into the sunset.
I will, confusingly, begin with the most distinctive tracks, those which are actually able to stand out. If nothing else, I’ll start here just to not merely repeat comments from their past two records. The opener, “Eternal Youth,” is a marker of the majority of the material here. It’s so interminably pleasant to listen to, wafting out the gates with strong synths and gentle melodies. “You Have Been in the Shadows for So Long” takes up this mantle with arguably the best melodies, developing nicely throughout and making a leap for joy after the 3-minute mark which is truly uplifting. Indeed, “Matters of the Heart” has an interesting passage of backing synths from 1:45 which strongly evokes a classic romance film score in its tear-tugging strings. It’s remarkably emotive and does at least conclude the record with gravitas.
The issue here is that while it’s impossible to say I dislike any of their music, it is merely superficially pleasing and ultimately feels like a chore to manage a full listen. I stated previously that such degradation would be attributable to their inability or unwillingness to develop their sound and while this is absolutely true, Eternal is compounded by more lackluster material this time around. Saving the above exceptions, the songs really do not stick or resonate as they have done before. They’re more rhythmically and structurally dull than ever, clinging to medium tempos and the verse-chorus format more rigidly, offering nothing new from track to track. Most pass by leaving nothing except ineffectual serenity as they flow around.
The compositions support a growing distance from anything resembling impact. The aforementioned pleasantries opening “Eternal Youth” signify this, and even the introduction of the heavier instruments isn’t striking or impressive. The vocals are shifted even further back in the mix, with more space conferred on the airy synths and atmospherics. The veiled trappings of black metal are ever further in the rearview mirror as the riffs are clearly not the focus and the signature shrieks which used to impress me become buried. “Days of Sleep” is clearly the darkest track given its somber melody but even that lacks any sense of danger. While never heavy on the bass historically, the mix is now lighter and misses the balancing grit offered by the louder vocals and guitars. Eternal could defensibly be classified as synth-pop and though this genre doesn’t phase me (indeed, I love synth-based music), here it lacks weight or significance.
AAfCC have ripped out the sadness and vitriol from metal and the result is inoffensive and unexciting. In fact, “ripped” is too aggressive a verb. “Coaxed” perhaps. Or “elicited.” What remains is flat, uninspired and fails to resonate. Their music is best described as an indistinct haze of muted hopefulness but never has it been more indistinct nor muted.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps MP3
Label: Wickerman Recordings
Websites: facebook.com/anautumnforcrippledchildren | anautumnforcrippledchildren.bandcamp.com
Releases worldwide digitally: March 1st, 2016 | Physically: October 7th, 2016