Shamefully, it’s still all too easy to allow a new record from Netherland-based black metal enigmas An Autumn For Crippled Children slip by unnoticed. Last year’s stellar The Long Goodbye garnered praise on this website, and the radio silence from other outlets sparked a brief think-piece bemoaning how, in a post-Sunbather world, An Autumn For Crippled Children still garner little fanfare despite doing things within the post-black metal genre that are incredibly fascinating, if not groundbreaking in the band’s oeuvre of going to such extremes in fusing black metal with bright New Wave and shoegaze melodies. A year later, and we’re back at square one: a brand new record, Eternal, unceremoniously dropped into Bandcamp with almost no one talking about it. Never underestimate the power of PR, kids.
It’s not as if An Autumn For Crippled Children are in it for the fanfare, anyway; the semi-anonymous nature of its members and air of avant garde bombast of the group’s works to date place the band firmly in the realm of obscurity. Still, there’s an intrinsic desire for justice in the art world, where recognition is highly sought-after and perpetuated and encouraged by its community for acts deemed worthy. Eternal, the band’s sixth full-length, certainly qualifies them as worthy of praise in its continued exploration of colorful post-everything-influenced black metal, where low-fi synth leads and razor-thin guitars are buried under static distortion and about a dozen layers of irony. Having been described as a depressive and suicidal black metal band in the past, the juxtaposition of these themes of death and depression with the happy-go-lucky and upbeat nature of much of the band’s music is almost jarring. The bizarre atmosphere isn’t as present here as it is on, say, a Botanist record, but the clash of disparate sounds is striking.
Eternal rides the fine line between lush and austere with a production that feels thin and electric yet explores some truly beautiful black metal with glitzy pianos and emotive chord progressions. Opening track “eternal youth” is as good as it gets when it comes to finding a suitable representation and summation of the album’s blueprint with its post-rock instrumentation and structure within the context of experimental black metal. “on fire” acts as an early stand-out due to its playful drum and piano instrumental that winds up in an explosive reverie of guitars and throaty screams. This formula works well for AAFCC, and they never stray too far from their established sound, which is okay due to the frequency in which haunting melodies and moving instrumental segments come and go.
As a whole, Eternal is a much more joyous album in its choice of melodies where its predecessor The Long Goodbye dipped into somber instrumentals and slower tempos with greater frequency. AAFCC hearken back to 2013’s try not to destroy everything you love, but with a greater experience and know-how in album crafting with production values fit to emphasize their esoteric style. try not to destroy, in comparison, was over-loud and clipped out into distortion; not that it matters all that much with the band’s emphasis on a noisy aesthetic, but Eternal is a more controlled chaos that cleans things up without sacrificing the important shroud of fuzz.
It’s evident now that AAFCC have settled into their niche comfortably, perfecting the sound they’ve established for themselves over the years. To call Eternal predictable would do the band a disservice, but the record is not so much of an evolution or continuance to uncharted territory as much as it is a refined experience of what we already know what the band does best, and that’s crafting deeply fascinating dream-pop by way of blackened screamo in yet another sleeper hit. Hopefully this one will pop up on some year-end lists this time; they definitely deserve it.