The ebb and flow of the album certainly makes the product feel oceanic, and Envy deliver every shift with an emotional gut punch.
Envy is about to start a sweeping North American tour with La Dispute and Deafheaven. Touring buddies usually land thanks to aligning album releases or other games of chance, but Envy being paired with emo-screamers La Dispute and black metal/shoe gaze acolytes Deafheaven feels too damn perfect. Because Envy improbably falls dead center between the two, indulging in beautiful post-rock paintings and ferocious hardcore moshes. Atheist’s Cornea is Envy melding those two worlds together better and more triumphantly than anyone else, reconciling two contrasting ideals that become bigger than the sum of their parts.
The umbrella genre of “rock” is so steadfastly white that it’s wonderful to have the Tokyo based gentlemen of Envy not only thriving over their 20-plus year existence, but, in fact, leading their subgenre. Their second and third albums, All the Footprints You’ve Ever Left and the Fear Expecting Ahead and A Dead Sinking Story, are two of the finest post-hardcore records ever. They stand up to works from Orchid and At the Drive In, delivering crushing sadness at a vicious clip (if you’re in the mood to absolutely be crushed by screamo, check out “Distress of Ignorance”). And with many of their former peers dismantled or, worse, releasing half-baked versions of their former selves (here’s looking at you, Refused), Envy stand as a rarity with a deep back-catalogue and a bright future.
Envy caught flack for All the Footprints and A Dead Sinking Story, due to their post-rock tendencies mingling freely with screamo roots. If you’re one of those people who was offended by this change (or if you felt similarly about Deafheaven or Alcest’s evolution into more shimmering realms), then stay far, far away from Atheist’s Cornea. It is unapologetically grand and sweeping, even the punkier sections that work with claustrophobia burst at the seams with lightning. Envy play with massive amounts of dynamic contrasts on Atheist’s Cornea, but just as important is the waxing and waning between the loud sections that either overwhelm by pure, screaming force, or simply engulf the listener. Opener “Blue Moonlight” has both, though it bolts from the starting line with the former. Frontman Tetsuya Fukagawa’s lyrics are all in Japanese, but the urgency is instantly translatable. Dairoku Seki’s galloping drum pattern makes the verses rattle, but he switches to a much more open and flexible lick in the chorus, allowing the song to open up, with skyrocketing guitars blasting off in the background. All this push and pull makes the closing section stomach-churning as Seki lets out a long drum roll over trembling guitars, a feverish pay-off that sets the tone for the entirety of Atheist’s Cornea.
The ebb and flow of the album certainly makes the product feel oceanic, and Envy deliver every shift with an emotional gut punch. It doesn’t matter what your native language is, Fukagawa’s sentiments, from his spoken word sections, to his surprisingly lovely singing, to his hoarse yell are all obvious in tone. The stakes can’t be bigger, it’s either the end of the world or the end of one person’s life, and both are equally important. The macro and the micro, in Envy’s hands, are both sublimely potent. “Shining Finger,” the most striking piece on Atheist’s Cornea, is that miniscule/universal contrast personified. Fukagawa’s hushed whisper over silky and beautiful guitars eventually erupts into a pained scream, with the instruments rising to meet his desperation. The juxtaposition makes “Shining Finger” desolate, yet hopeful, like rain after a wildfire. Following track “Ticking Time and String” works on the same logic, though it’s more restrained thanks to an unlikely, but gorgeous, singing from Fukagawa.
The hushed moments are often the focus, but the album’s biggest strengths lay in the booming moments. Take the opening guitar assault of “Footsteps in the Distance” or the blindingly bright wall of noise on “An Insignificant Poem.” These seconds of rage boiled in music are fantastic, but anger without focus soon devolves into madness. Envy keep a thread of sanity, even at their lowest, like the fury that consumes the opening duo “Blue Moonlight” and “Ignorant Rain and the End of the World.”
Atheist’s Cornea ends on a meditative note. After the thrashing work of “Two Isolated Souls,” “Your Heart and My Hand” serves as a stunning and tranquil work to bind together the conflicting emotions and volumes of the album. It does occasionally set itself alight with slicing guitar riffs, but most of the song is built on a simple, hummable melody that strangely sounds like “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” It’s the aftermath of something passionately destructive, something that obliterates the old and gives room for new life. As Envy continue down this brilliant path, it’s easy to compare them to Deafheaven or other such post-rock enthusiasts, but we should remember that those are Envy’s fingerprints on other bands’ sounds, not the other way around. And, perhaps more importantly, they’re still doing it better than anyone else.