My feelings towards the ‘blackgaze’ trend are admittedly forged upon the grounds of contradiction. When the fusion began to consolidate sometime around 2010, I immediately loved the uplifting analog to DSBM brought on by bands like Alcest and Heretoir. In the years since, I’ve become increasingly jaded, at least in theory, to the concept and implications behind blackgaze. Beyond the semantics qualm regarding whether an inclusive, ‘positive’ variety of black metal is a direct contradiction of terms, the genre was quick to stagnate; the overwhelming praise for Sunbather, for which we are also guilty, was cringe-worthy, and I’d hesitate to say that the style has produced another masterpiece since Écailles de Lune. I should like to think I don’t like blackgaze. I find myself temporarily brought back to the fold whenever listening to An Autumn for Crippled Children, however, a band so demonstrative of blackgaze aesthetics that I might recommend them first to whomever was intrigued in discovering the style.
An Autumn for Crippled Children have stayed true to the blackgaze paradigm throughout their career, navigating that wispy medium between depression and melancholic hope with understated screams, upbeat rhythms, and wave upon wave of melodic noise to stay their course. With relatively little change from album to album, it’s almost shocking to think The Long Goodbye is their fifth full-length. For an act with six years of prolific history who drape their genre-tag over everything they do, there’s very little novelty or surprise to the band’s work at this point. Admirers will continue to find themselves lost in the aquatic haze, though some may find themselves beginning to tire. Detractors, as always, will no doubt regard it with the same soporific apathy An Autumn for Crippled Children have always tempted. As for my stake in it, should I hold their stagnation against them; do I love them for their consistency? In most cases where the mind draws a blank, the heart knows. The heart is ultimately what An Autumn for Crippled Children mean to infiltrate with their music, and with some of the songs they’ve offered on The Long Goodbye, they manage to infiltrate right to the core.
An Autumn for Crippled Children have capably continued the sound that could be found on their previous albums, most recently Try Not to Destroy Everything You Love from 2013. And again, to describe that sound would be to define blackgaze en toute. Where many fusion-centric acts emphasize one half of their blend over the other, An Autumn for Crippled Children are so indicative of the style for the fact they like to stay fixed in the very middle. Though The Long Goodbye is arguably best described as a metal album over all else, every sharp edge inherent to black metal has been rounded off. Some of the negative feeling remains from the original recipe of course, but even that is tempered by hope and, ultimately, benevolent intentions. Where depressive black metal functions as a catharsis via submission to negative energies, An Autumn for Crippled Children resists negativity without resistance. The guitars are murkily distorted, but otherwise devoid of distortion; their songwriting is gently guided by consonance and melody alike. Even Mchl‘s vocals—the most traditionally old-school ingredient of their entire sound—are quietly embedded in the mix enough to subvert their power. The Long Goodbye is a peaceful album, and it dares not provoke whomever listens to it.
This description undoubtedly bears negative associations, and indeed, in the majority of cases, a band that had sought to declaw themselves to such an extent would tempt immediate dismissal from my listening diet. If there’s anything that keeps An Autumn for Crippled Children from excommunication, however, it’s that they actually achieve what they set out to do: create feelings of forgiveness and uplifting warmth. I certainly hesitate to call this black metal of any sort, but as I’ve listened to The Long Goodbye, I’ve noticed a quiet longing emerge in my stomach. That’s the sort of gut reaction I’d have when thinking of past loves or sad films. The truth is that An Autumn for Crippled Children are very good at crafting their soft noise. Though it demands absolutely nothing of the listener, they hide gorgeous melodies in the mix just deep enough to make repeated listens worth the time. ‘A New Form of Stillness’ is arguably the best composed track of the lot, but no part of the album establishes my last point better than ‘Only Skin’, where cloudy synth tones beautifully emerge through the guitars, but just barely, as though they’re making the most of their last, gasping breath to shine a light through the fog of the guitars and guide the listener home.
The Long Goodbye is a pleasant album, and in the future, it’s probably something I’ll put on while I’m writing or trying to relax before sleep. In a broader sense, An Autumn for Crippled Children have actually reinforced my cynicism towards blackgaze. I am not challenged or awestruck by any of the music here, and The Long Goodbye would much rather hinge upon the band’s past advancements than its own. But I cannot help but acknowledge the immersive beauty they’ve crafted again with this album. Like I said before: the heart doesn’t lie.
01) The Long Goodbye
02) Converging Towards the Light
03) A New Form of Stillness
04) Only Skin
05) When Night Leaves Again
06) She’s Drawing Mountains
07) Endless Skies
09) The Sleep of Rust