It seemed strange that Atheist’s Cornea was touted as both the most straightforward and progressive release in Envy’s discography. The eminent Japanese band’s style revolves around a blending of hardcore punk, post hardcore, post rock and screamo, with the cornerstones of each of these genres leaning in somewhat different directions regarding the use of brevity and progression. This is not to suggest that such a combination is impossible to execute successfully, but as Atheist’s Cornea demonstrates, attempts that falter cause a disjointed feeling. In their attempt at a triumphant return after a five year absence, Envy mustered up eight enjoyable tracks that do not typically venture much further in terms of quality.
Atheist’s Cornea’s lead singles provides some initial hope that the album’s goal would be realized. Despite an oddly choppy cut from a quiet guitar introduction, “Blue Moonlight” provides a ripping slab of screamo played with a greater degree of grandeur. Moments such as these flirt with the sonics of blackgaze, sounding particularly comparable to Deafheaven (whom Envy has influenced) and Woods of Desolation. “Footsteps in the Distance” was an even stronger primer for the album, revolving a triumphant crescendo around patient post rock and gorgeous spoken word and clean vocals spoken in lead vocalist Tetsuya Fukagawa’s native tongue. In addition to this pair of tracks is the album’s greatest track, being the stupendous display of post rock on “Shining Finger.” On the album’s longest track, Envy perform simply but potently, with genuinely well-written and performed post rock speckled sparingly with Fukagawa’s spoken word, airy cleans and pained bark.
Sparingly was chosen purposely, for what Fukagawa has to offer starts to lose its luster as soon as “Blue Moonlight” initiates the Atheist’s Cornea’s proceedings. Fukagawa’s screams certainly carry a sincere tone of devastation, but his delivery throughout the album is noticeably atonal, often resigning to the same pattern of brief, wailing statements that fades into a whimpering croak. Though fitting to the album’s music, Fukagawa delivers more emotionally than compositionally and becomes tiring the more and more he howls. The spoken word and singing that Fukagawa provides is delivered much more effectively and is enhanced by the innate beauty of the Japanese language. Yet, there is a persistent feeling throughout the album that an instrumental Envy may produce a slightly better product. Particularly during the album’s softer moments like “Footsteps in the Distance” and especially “Shining Finger,” Fukagawa’s emotions, while good, has somewhere between a neutral and lightly hindering effect on the emotional weight of the music itself.
However, as is evident by the sparse list of noteworthy tracks, much of what Envy offers on Atheist’s Cornea is not overly gripping. “An Insignificant Poem” begins with a stirring melodic build, but the ensuing romp of standard Envy barks and screamo tropes slashes the alluded to potential. This rests within Envy’s problem of balancing multiple styles within one track. While “Two Isolated Souls” begins with some half-hearted intensity via start-stop guitar riffs with a mediocre tone, its decent array of standard Envy fare awkwardly moves into an equally decently melodic build and release, neither of which meshes well with the other part. And while closer “Your Heart and My Hand” begins with a post rock incline reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky’s soundtrack work, it releases into a very plain, summery guitar riff that feels more like a mere glance at the sun than a full on experience of basking in its glory.
In essence, Atheist’s Cornea has numerous worthwhile moments that are juxtaposed with mediocre ideas and/or playing. Nothing that Envy presents here is blatantly awful, nor is it truly groundbreaking, causing the lukewarm delivery to feel a bit more disappointing. An album full of instrumental post rock in the vein of “Shining Finger” would have showcased Envy’s talents more fully and led to an album similarly familiar but much more enjoyable. As it stands currently, Atheist’s Cornea will do nothing to convert Envy skeptics.
Envy – Atheist’s Cornea gets…