Three consecutive releases reviewed by three different writers on AMG? This must be unheard of. Carving a little niche as one of the better and more evocative offshoots from the much-maligned ‘blackga(y)ze’ genre, An Autumn for Crippled Children have produced their fifth full-length in the beautifully desolate The Long Goodbye. Still as mournful as their titular season and child welfare status and yet uplifting as though hope is breaking through the oppressive clouds, everything that you liked before is here. I really can’t review this badly since I feel they absolutely nail the style that they strive for – this is the best work AAfCC has produced – but there is a distinct feeling that the Angry Metal Guy’s Law of Diminishing Recordings™ will soon hit. This is their plateau and they must develop in order to remain relevant.
As before, AAfCC are at their melancholic best when crafting expressive soundscapes and atmospheres. The judicious deployment of synths across their oeuvre is stronger than ever here, as principle conveyors of melody. Sweeping strings and deft keys adorn all tracks and serve to afford some hope and uplift the mood, while the fuzzy guitar leads and tortured vox tussle to drag you through myriad upsetting emotions. While I feel similar bands such as Alcest have clearer highlights, their music is too emotionally safe and can feel superficial. AAfCC expertly navigates between the euphoric and the funereal, drawing on this range in crafting their ambience which is an instrument all on its own. It’s an impressive trait and one I hope they carry forward while developing their sound: “Only Skin,” “She’s Drawing Mountains” and “Endless Skies” are exemplar highlights.
Of course, more traditional metal instrumentation plays its role in crafting such atmospheres. The album opens with “The Long Goodbye,” seemingly a statement made against their critics who accuse them of flowery frivolousness and absence of heavy-hitting content. It’s comparatively synth-light and begins with a compelling if shimmering guitar lead, before breaking straight into MCHL’s agonized vocals. This is another of their key strengths and I’ve been a big fan since I first heard him in 2012. Lower in the mix than typically the case for metal, his vocals really contribute to their holistic approach, layering each individual melodic stream into their quite unique sound. The compressed rhythms and leads underpin the hazy top layer of synths and pianos, and are intrinsic to the overall effect.
It becomes apparent in structure that the current AAfCC‘s time is running short. Their musical zenith they may have hit, but structurally this is identical to their prior two releases. There has been no attempt at progression or diversity, with easily digestible songs of four to six minutes and unbending stylistic consistency. By the end of The Long Goodbye I was desiring more, a sense that the band was building to a finale. Though their songs do undergo transition, there are no real climaxes. They have produced three near-identical albums and I’ve now had my fill – if ever I’m in the mood for this style of music, I already have three reference points. Though I love what’s been achieved here through subtle improvements, I don’t need more of the same, and I won’t be so kind to future releases if unchanged.
The production is executed well. The mixing and mastering balances proceedings wonderfully, lending a pleasing fuzziness and contributing to the uplifting side of the music. Audiophiles may complain at the limited dynamic range and lack of instrumental accentuation, but the balanced amalgamation of sounds is part of their atmospheric success.
There is no doubt in my mind that The Long Goodbye is AAfCC‘s best work, achieved through minor improvements across their last three releases. They generate a encapsulating effect where you don’t just hear their music, but become situated in it. However, they now need to innovate or they will stagnate. There is an opportunity to progressively develop here and I hope it is taken.