Album Review: Autumn - "Cold Comfort"
Autumn's new album "Cold Comfort" is a work befitting its creator's name. Varying between pleasantly warm and icily fragile, "Cold Comfort" is both a promise of uneasy transition and muted optimism. That said, this album would have been more complete if there had been one breakthrough moment at the end of it. There are those who would counter that autumn as a season seldom announces winter's arrival with anything but a whimper. As a resident of the northeast, I can say that the fall foliage's evocative display represents its last gasp of defiance against the coming darkness, and therefore Autumn’s new effort invokes only half of the season’s nature.
What's particularly laudable about the swirl of tenuous emotions that the album presents is that they are prominently showcased through the undulating moods of the music, rather than smashed over the listener's head with blunt lyrical allusions. To listen to the title track is to hear music that brings visions of walking gingerly on ice of unknown thickness; the song rolls with the kind of distant, unsettling gait that a person uses on a slick sidewalk. When paired with lyrics addressing the multi-faceted nature of living through difficult times, “Cold Comfort” carries the banner for the entire experience. It is pleasant, in a marketplace gone mad with guyliner, revelations blasted in caps at 140 characters and a decided lack of debonair tact to see a group of musicians willing to trade in subtlety and introspective conjecture.
Those who despise hype, mainstream exposure and public knowledge of their metal may stand and announce that "Cold Comfort" is the direction that Lacuna Coil should have taken. They are not entirely without argument, but the comparison is not entirely accurate. The difference between Lacuna Coil and Autumn is like the subtle but critical difference between the ideas of "retro" and "vintage." To follow the analogy, Lacuna Coil is "retro," crafted in a style with sharp edges and pulsing, passionate emotions, while Autumn is "vintage"; not given to extremes and painted more delicately with earthier tones.
"Cold Comfort" is an album that savors each moment, and demands patience from the listener as it unfolds the entire story. There is no immediate response or instant result available on the album, and it is refreshing in its own way to hear a record that doesn't pander to easy answers.
However, the patience required to properly absorb the slow-footed seven minute piece "Alloy" can be hard to come by. In these moments, Autumn goes too far down the path of deliberation, giving the listener not just delayed gratification, but no gratification. Even a slow, simmering pot like Polanski's "Chinatown," "Se7en" or various scenes from "Jaws" must come to a crescendo to make the audience feel as though the time spent in anticipation was worthwhile. "Cold Comfort" never crests the hill to offer that kind of reward, though they attempt to do so with "Naeon," which is a little like watching a firework exploding under water. That’s not to say that the album would be enhanced by some kind of late 90’s Rob Zombie amp-fest. Quite the opposite, as such a piece would feel hopelessly out of place and manufactured. Still, some kind of beautiful, grand movement, with a powerful, rangy performance from vocalist Marjel Welman would have sufficed.
There are moments when Autumn makes a point of pushing the pedal a little further down, and giving the expertly smooth (perhaps to a fault) vocal performance of Welman a foundation to stand on. “Black Stars in a Blue Sky” introduces what is classically considered rock guitar into the mix, and utilizes the instrument in a rhythm somewhat akin to doom metal. The album’s last cut, “The Venamoured” treads into this same space, with similar effect.
The production, by longtime Autumn collaborator Erik-Jan Dodd is spacious and accessible, which is even more impressive given the number of layers at work on each song. While the musical lines are marginally progressive, they are based on simple rock structures. What Dodd (and the band) did was take those ideas and master them so that each song is both identifiable by its parts and concurrently more than the sum of them. It is too bad that the album does not feature more varied songwriting or unusual instrumentation, as Dodd’s production would have been capable of handling more twists and turns. Instead, each cut falls roughly into either the category of “ambient rock song with high vocals” and “crossover rock song with high vocals and a little gain.”
In truth, there’s nothing horribly wrong with “Cold Comfort.” The decisions to keep the album muted was the musicians’ own, and to their credit they have created a fine album in that image. It is easy to respect Autumn and “Cold Comfort” for the artistic creation that it is. However, it’s hard to recommend this album because it is unlikely to hook your ear or entice you into multiple repeated listenings. With the addition of just a little more punch or apex, “Cold Comfort” would be so much more.