I’ve taken a lot longer over this record than I usually would before writing a review. Occasionally, that can indicate that an album was so middle-of-the-road that it took me that long to find anything semi-entertaining or enlightening to say about it. Happily, this was not the case here. No, my delay in fact stemmed from trying to wrap my head around everything An Autumn For Crippled Children throw at the listener within Lost. Within each of the nine tracks on the CD, there’s so much going on that it’s difficult to ever feel like you’ve truly heard everything.
Described as simply as possible, An Autumn For Crippled Children combine raging, lo-fi black metal – all distorted, screamed vocals and raging, ultra-gained distorted riffage – with a more melancholic, atmospheric, ambient and layered sensibility. One moment, the band could be pummelling you with the unintelligible roaring of the vocalist, rapid double-kick drumming and frantic tremolo-picked riffage – the next, you’re receiving the equivalent of a sonic massage, with swelling synths, minor-key piano melodies and reverbed, sonorous lead guitar work creating an altogether more funereal atmosphere. Take, for instance, the third track ‘A Dire Faith'; it begins with multi-tracked layers of distant, feedback-laden leads over clean guitar arpeggios and restrained, languid drumming, creating a beautifully mournful atmosphere. Then comes a dual guitar harmony, supported by minimalistic piano accompaniment. Next, the vocalist weighs in, all scratchy, distorted howls and screams over riffage that gradually builds in intensity atop driving double-kicks. All this within the space of a couple of minutes – and there’s six more minutes of the track to go.
Repeated listens reveal more and more detail in the arrangements – and repeated listens are almost mandatory to fully unlock the depths of this release, especially given the unusual production. The distorted guitar tone is overdriven to an almost comical degree, creating a buzzing, crackling firestorm of noise when things get more blackened. The vocalist screams and howls away, pushed back in the mix by a combination of reverb and omni-present distortion. The drums are murky and indistinct, with the snare in particular getting buried in the mix more often than not. The whole affair is almost intimidatingly loud – when vocals, guitars, bass, drums and synths are all going at once, it becomes difficult to actually discern what instrument is playing which part – is that a synth playing there, or is it an artifact of the wall of sound created by everything fighting for space in the mix? Yet, where this kind of everything-louder-than-everything-else production would normally be an irritating distraction, An Autumn For Crippled Children somehow make it work for them – the listener is completely enveloped by sound, and has the choice to either lose themselves in the swirling vortex of alternately murderous and morose soundscapes, or else to pay extra attention, thus unveiling the care that has gone into arranging the material.
This is definitely not going to be a record for everyone. It comes across like a schizophrenic mix of Anaal Nathrakh’s black metal nailbomb, The Codex Necro, and Drudkh’s atmospheric, melancholy take on Eastern European folk-black, Blood In Our Wells. At times it also reminds me of Ukrainian one-metal folk-black act Raventale, while at others, I’m reminded of the relentless Lovecraftian horror of The Axis Of Perdition. While I think the blend of styles has come together very well on Lost, the production job may well be divisive. However, those that manage to overcome the initial shock of the sandpapery blast of the mix and persevere will be rewarded with an album of surprising complexity and depth.