I doubt that many musicians would claim to not be slightly jealous of Envy's career trajectory. From humbler beginnings as a hardcore band singing in a non-native tongue, to issuing splits with the likes of Thursday and Jesu, releasing albums through Stuart Braithwaite's Rock Action, and palling around with Steve Aoki, they've been met with almost universal acclaim and success in their pursuit of a singular artistic vision. If Envy wasn't already their name, it would at least be a word commonly uttered in the orbit of conversation that surrounds them. While not having the same pedigree as some releases of their past, their seventh album The Fallen Crimson is another in a long line of achievements. To my ears, it is probably one of the more fully realized examples of the potential of their aesthetic.
To me, The Fallen Crimson is their best release since their 2008 split with Thursday, but it's a release that would have seemed impossible less than five years ago. Envy's lead singer Tetsuya Fukagawa left the band in 2016, prompting a line-up restructuring that also hemorrhaged founding guitarist Masahiro Tobita as well as drummer Dairoku Seki. They were replaced by six-string axe wielders Yoshimitsu Taki and Yoshi, and new skin pounder Hiroki Watanabe to release 2018's twenty-minute, two-song single Alnair In August. While good, these singles leaned hard into the blissed-out tremolos and weightless feedback that had defined the sounds of post-hardcore in the late '00s. By 2010 these sounds had been copied to the point of parody. This was not a good look for a band known for its progressive music tendencies. Further, even though the Fukagawa-less single "Marginalized Thread" displayed a mastery of craft and some truly amazing builds, its particular brand of prickle had at that point been fully subsumed by a wave of high-profile American rockers, not the least of which Deafheaven, who had essentially usurped this style of metal and made it their own. And if the "Black Brick" single they released last year is any indicator, even they're getting a little sick of its gauzy textures as well. So where do you go when someone else has moved into your house and started wearing all of your clothes. I guess you could organize a timeshare and borrow the bits of wardrobes you need when the squatters aren't using them. Or you can get a different place and a new look. Thankfully, Fukagawa returned to the band in 2018, which resulted in a somewhat of a course correction. In opting for the latter and returning to their hardcore roots, Envy has proven that they were never the product of their environment, as much as they've always had the power to make their environment a product of them.
The Fallen Crimson opens with metalcore ripper "Statement of Freedom," a thesis on the band's new direction, melding crunchy thrash riffs with bruising hardcore grooves that cartwheels like a bundle of razor wire that has been fashioned by elemental forces into an excessively dangerous tumbleweed, an object that moves with a preternatural will, cutting an unnerving path, even though the song's quieter movements. It's followed up by "Swaying Leaves and Scattering Breath," a sort of wistful redux of their post-rock past, but now the tremolos have been relegated to a supporting role in a vivid vista reconnoitering and bluff scaling groove, allowing for an ambitious song structure get a foothold amongst lofty, cascading melodies. If at this point there was any doubt as to the complete progressive vision of this album, the third track "A Faint New World" takes a bleakly contemplative turn, while maintaining the ethereal qualities of the proceeding track, and employing the muscle and malice of the opener to punctuate its journey with a suitable level of melodrama and practiced posturing. This opening three tracks assembly organizes everything you need to know about The Fallen Crimson into one neat little package, allowing the band to explore the confluence of ideas, both old and bold, throughout the remainder of the album.
These motifs of quiet thoughtful reserve and plaster peeling punk rock fury, matched with studied cinematic tones and warm, pensive reverb, play complimentary protagonist roles on tracks like "Fingerprint Mark" which has the air of an ancient wanderer with a wounded heart, and the mournful, surging, and flagellant closer "A Step in the Morning Glow." More reserved moments on The Fallen Crimson like the soft, reverie of "Rhythm" with its delicate melody and heartbeat kick, and the tepidly sanguine and acoustic lead "Memories and the Limit" demonstrate the band's range and talent for making the less immediately impactful moments on the album feel infused with a passion and care that allows them to rise to their potential, rather than languishing as mere filler. If there is one thing that drags The Fallen Crimson down in my estimation, it is the inclusion of the Alnair In August singles. Even though the versions included here are clearly superior mixes to those released back in 2018, both "Dawn and Gaze" and "Marginalized Thread" feel like they were written as capstones for a previous era of the band, and should have been left as part of their own singular release and statement. Their inclusion here breaks up the flow of the album with reminders of a history that Envy appears elsewhere to be striving to leave behind.
Even in the view of some questionable creative decisions, The Fallen Crimson is still a strong album that sees Envy newly reified and ready to step into daring new directions in the coming decade. But even if they revert back to streamlined, head-busting metalcore I'll be here for it. After The Fallen Crimson, they can do whatever they want, and you'll be guaranteed a gripping and satiating aural experience.
7.9 / 10
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Posted May 15, 2013, 5:05 p.m.
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