Feels like a showcase of all things that inspired every band that Envy helped create.
Envy should be long gone by now. Following the release of the Japanese hardcore band’s 6th album, Atheist’s Cornea, frontperson Tetsuya Fukagawa left the band, rattling the hearts and minds of longtime fans. After almost 25 years, it seemed like the fury and power of the band had gotten to Fukagawa, and though the band continued to exist, they didn’t actually make anything. Two years later, they reconfigured themselves as a three-piece and announced their first show. What does that sound like? Outside of a two-song single they released, it’s hard to say – Fukagawa hit everyone with a left hook and rejoined the group for that show, totally unannounced. If that sounds like a dizzying chain of events, don’t worry – it kind of is. And yet, for those who didn’t follow the band, you could easily not know anything had happened.
The Fallen Crimson, the band’s first in five years, feels like a showcase of all things that inspired every band that Envy helped create. Their approach – soaring post-rock and face-melting shoegaze elements mixed with pained hardcore screams and spoken-word breakdown – became known as Blackgaze, a style that former-tourmates Deafheaven took and ran with as their aesthetic. That’s essentially always been the gist, though: go back to the band’s perfect breakthrough All the Footsteps You’ve Ever Left and the Fear Expecting Ahead, and you’ll find them employing these same techniques. The Fallen Crimson doesn’t do anything to reinvent those techniques, but it feels like the band’s inner turmoil rejuvenated those pieces and made them, somehow, totally fresh.
The Fallen Crimson arrives ready to go – opener “Statement of freedom” is keen to hit you with a firehose of distortion within the first 15 seconds, each line Fukagawa screams resulting in his own echo helping to double his power. Envy never knows how to stay in one place long, though: he’s reduced to a spoken whisper amongst twinkling guitars before the song’s over, before rising back up again. Two songs later, “A faint new world” reverses that trick, he monologues alongside moody guitars before kicking into high gear at the one minute mark. He proves to be a fantastic focal point yet again, but every piece of the band feels sharply tuned and, most importantly, capable of balancing out the heaviness with moments of grandeur and quiet beauty more adeptly than any other band in the field.
Unless you speak Japanese and can decipher Fukagawa’s screams, you likely aren’t going to know a single thing he’s screaming or singing about – and it’s not really the point. Much like Sigur Rós frontperson Jónsi , the actual lyrics aren’t the point, but rather the delivery that matters. What sets him apart is how dynamic he is. “Swaying leaves and scattering dust” pairs his hypnotic spoken words and singing voice with pummeling guitars and an unshakeable sense of all-out grandeur, but just one song later on “A faint new world,” he swaps his singing for blood-curdling screams. He never settles in anywhere for very long, and it’s honestly hard to fully imagine what the band would be without his range – after all, it’s the vocal equivalent of the band’s constant loud/quiet/loud dynamic.
Much like any of Envy’s albums, it doesn’t feel like it was designed to be listened to song-by-song. These songs don’t necessarily sound like they were meant to go together, but much like classics like All the Footsteps and A Dead Sinking Story, their heaviness and progressions make it impossible to not get sucked into the guitar squalls. Before you know it, the near-hour long Fallen Crimson is over, and you’ll almost definitely feel yourself immediately pulled back into its dynamic embrace. Perhaps a Fukagawa-less Envy may have turned out sounding just as good as this version of the band, but when they’re making records this solid, why would you want to risk it?