For a while there, things did not look great for envy. A true workhorse of a band, the Tokyo-based troupe had spent decades building and honing their uniquely anthemic brand of screamo, right up until 2015’s coup de grace Atheist’s Cornea, after which little was heard from them until last year’s EP/album teaser reminded us all that they were not only still kicking about but had returned with a passion.
There have been a few major shake-ups in the past half-decade, most notably the replacement of guitarist Masahiro Tobita with Yoshi and Yohimitsu Taki, Hiroki Watanabe (ex-SZKN) taking over on drums and the departure of irreplaceable vocalist Tetsuya Fukagawa (don’t worry, he came back) but even with such a mammoth shift in make-up, the dynamic feels unchanged – The Fallen Crimson is as epic, furious and heart-tuggingly uplifting as envy have ever been.
Both sides of their sound find themselves well-represented here, even within the first two tracks. Opener Statement Of Freedom rushes the listener with little warning, Watanabe’s brusque snarework leading the charge with Fukugawa’s cries following sharply behind. While it might have been tempting to use their new tri-pronged guitar setup to bludgeon the listener into submission, it’s comparatively restrained, building and patiently framing the aggression rather than dominating it right up until the first of many soaring climaxes. On the other hand, Swaying Leaves And Scattering Breath pulls the flow from the dirt soaring straight skywards, all breezy post-rock melodies, lilting bass and a delightfully sing-song performance from Fukagawa; it’s hard to think of when the band last sounded so… angelic.
It’s testament to their convictions that even with a drastically adjusted line-up, they’ve built on their strengths and continued to hone the elements that have set them apart…
On the whole, The Fallen Crimson pulls to and fro between these disparate poles but as there has always been in envy’s latter-day works, there’s a definite leaning towards the brighter side of their sound. Rhythm uses the inclusion of guest vocalist Achiko, backed by some delicate choral work, to create what is best described as the album’s heart, a gorgeous slice of bombastic dream-pop that jibes so well with their flow that it’s a wonder that they’d never drifted quite this far into the light before, while HIKARI is a wispy channelling of their inner Alcest, so much so that you half-expect Neige to pop up in the middle surrounded by pixies. On the flipside, even when they’re letting rip (A Faint New World, Fingerprint Mark) there are such strong melodic components at work that it’s the emotion and beauty that shines through, rather than the metallic rigidity of old.
After 28 years, it doesn’t feel like envy are struggling towards some grand reinvention but they’re hardly resting on their laurels either. It’s testament to their convictions that even with a drastically adjusted line-up, they’ve built on their strengths and continued to hone the elements that have set them apart – their passion, their marriage of fragility and power, a flair for lofty hooks that bring tears to eyes and smiles to faces – and worked them into an album that rivals even their best. The Fallen Crimson is an unmistakeably gorgeous work and even this early in the year, it already feels guaranteed to feature on at least a few AOTY lists.
Scribed by: Dave Bowes