The Autumn Offering // Embrace the Gutter
Label: Victory Records
The name “The Autumn Offering” evokes the mental image of a hooded cultist bent down on his knees, holding up a platter of orange, rotting leaves as a leafy sacrifice of some sort to some leaf-munchin’ goat demon. But as a band that was once signed to Jamey Jasta’s Stillborn Records, The Autumn Offering is hardly obsessed with the environment or the occult. They are quite obviously a metalcore band obsessed with the usual lyrical themes of relationship troubles and personal struggles—based on the first impression one gets from the name alone—and were once so good that they caught the attention of Victory Records. Upon joining the Victory roster, they released what is their best work to date, Embrace the Gutter.
Embrace the Gutter was easily the most memorable metalcore record of the mid-2000s for Happy Metal Adolescent and The Autumn Offering circa 2006 was an underappreciated gem. Way. Too. Underappreciated. I remember coming across the music video of their ‘hit single’ and title track of the Embrace the Gutter record on a Victory Records podcast and going, “Unholy pipsqueaks! The growls! This riff!! That guitar solo!!!” This reaction happened in spite of the fact that the music video had an utterly dull and B-grade mise en scène and predictable narrative. And such reactions only happen when the music is so good that it completely transports the listener’s mind into the record’s sonic realm and reduces one’s cognitive capacity to engage in the skeptical and cold analysis of imperfect details that would severely reduce a band’s likeability.
If you ever dug the kind of metalcore that leaned more towards melodic death metal, you will love what The Autumn Offering did on this record. The band’s style was aggressive and musical – a feat seldom achieved by typical metalcore bands. From the shred-gasmic guitar solos of “Embrace the Gutter” and “One Last Thrill” to the dark and moody piano and string accompaniment heard in eleventh and final track “The Final Cut,” The Autumn Offering wows listeners again and again with both musicality and a variety of musical devices. If you think only a fraction of tech-death bands like Obscura and Fleshgod Apocalypse are influenced by Classical music, think again. Listen to that Baroque-inspired guitar counterpoint that comes right after the guitar solo of “One Last Thrill” and be floored like an overpowered pro wrestler. With that said, the band didn’t forget to compose numerous crunchy ‘n’ bruising riffs too, which are as tasty and pleasant as chomping down on a barrage of Koko Krunch boulders headed for one’s mouth at the speed of a bullet.
As a result, every song on this record is of non-filler quality, including the opening instrumental track, as it complements the introduction of the first proper song well. I gave most songs a five-star rating in my iTunes playlist, and I’m not one who is easily impressed. With such great senses of musicality and technical proficiency, one cannot help but wonder how much Swedish melo-death then-guitarists Matt Johnson and Tommy Church gobbled down as kids.
Take note that when I use the term “metalcore” in this review, I don’t mean that The Autumn Offering’s music then sounded as breakdown-ish as the generic deathcore of today. They are, first and foremost, metal with a capital ‘M’ that has some hardcore influences, which mostly stems from then-vocalist Dennis Miller’s raspy barks and throaty screams. In contrast, most generic deathcore vocalists today do that deep, guttural, throat-cancer-inducing death metal growl. Furthermore, The Autumn Offering’s breakdowns are actually not plentiful and sound sensible whenever they appear (e.g.: 01:44 to 01:55 of sixth track “Misery”), unlike the single-chord, palm-muted riffs that are so commonly heard in low-quality modern deathcore.
Going back to my earlier point about the band being under-appreciated, I do remember a little hype over The Autumn Offering at the time when Embrace the Gutter was going to be/just released. But strangely, the band’s reputation didn’t seem to blossom into anything more than Amazon.com search results recommendations for people who frequently buy metalcore CDs online. It was really unusual, because a typical Victory band with a solid release under its belt then—such as Silverstein or Hawthorne Heights—would have grown so big that its members would become staple characters in the wet dreams of teenaged ‘core girls. In fact, to this day, Embrace the Gutter maintains an average review rating of 81% on Metal-archives.com. And we all know that the denizens of Metal-archives.com can be very harsh on metalcore bands. So what went wrong?
Well, as the typical fate of any metalcore band would have it, the lineup that produced Embrace the Gutter never lasted. By the time the band’s second record Fear Will Cast No Shadow (2007) was released, the vocalist and drummer had been replaced. The replacement of ex-vocalist Dennis Miller with then-newcomer Matt McChesney was what sealed the fate of old The Autumn Offering as we know it. You see, McChesney was one of those metalcore vocalists who utilized both harsh and clean vocals to achieve the beauty-and-the-beast effect, but his clean singing sounds insipid and his harsh vocals, weak. Miller’s purely harsh vocals complemented the instrumental section of the band much better.
Fortunately, The Autumn Offering has been on hiatus for three years now and judging from how their Facebook page is advertising the artworks, clothing line and new bands of some former members, the band doesn’t seem to have any intention of producing new material anytime soon. This is, perhaps, for the good of preserving the legacy that is Embrace the Gutter.