There appears to be a full-swing trend within several metal styles that sees bands focusing as much on mood as they do on fury, virtuosity, or the complexity of their arrangements. Sometimes that mood is fury, but it can travel into other emotional territories, such as how funeral doom tends to be mired in drowning hopelessness. The lengthily-named Dutch act An Autumn for Crippled Children fits this trend. The songs on Lost are woven around the moods themselves, shifting between the depressive and the uplifting, all played through fuzzed-up black metal heavily laced with evocative doom. The result is an engrossing debut that can be tough to pigeonhole but easy and very pleasant to take in.
The immediate impression is that AAFCC fall squarely into the depressive black metal mold, with chord progressions during opener “To Set Sails to the Ends of the Earth” calling to mind Hvis Lyset Tar Oss-era Burzum, or more recently, Walknut. Much of the music employs the hypnotic sway and buried-screech vocals oft-employed within the style. Even the Blut Aus Nord-ish tone of the guitar (fuzzed and pinched) adds to this impression, while also giving Lost a homogenous sheen in the production department.
As the riff- and blast-laden “Ghost Light” displays, AAFCC would be in damn good shape as a mere black metal band, but their vision is wider. For starters, the slow-building (and expertly crafted) “A Dire Faith” sends the listener across the burnt prairies of melancholic doom as it stretches its melody and atmosphere to the utmost point. The song is deceptive, with the album’s production maintaining the face of black metal, while the music itself is firmly in the terrain of sedate doom. Secondly, the band is no more completely depressive than they are wholly black metal, as Lost also provides ample time for uplifting and bright melodies to claw their way to the surface. Some of these will resemble the soaring tremolo harmonies familiar to Krallice fans, and others are more subtle. At the subtle end is “I Beg Thee Not to Spare Me,” a dynamic track that shifts mood rapidly and repeatedly during one particular passage, as if the two guitar parts were playing emotive tug of war. The more uplifting melody survives, but when the song shifts into a softer part it appears only in an altered state and quickly fades out, as if its battle were in vain (it does return later, but that’s just good songwriting). This attention to detail permeates throughout the album and is undoubtedly the band’s greatest asset.
The instrumental song “An Autumn for Crippled Children” features a more overt diversion into the light. After a gradual build of piano and somber guitars settles into a slow and captivating dirge, a chill-inducing tremolo harmony about halfway through gives the track (and album) its peak. It possesses a kind of majesty that calls to mind the year 1995 and The Gathering’s “Sand and Mercury.” Then, it was a band truly finding their voice and delving into brilliance for the first time. Here, it is a band already possessing the former and hopefully revealing the latter for the future.
None of the small details would come through without deft and inspired performances by the band itself. While vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist MXM gets the most face-time, the rhythm section of TXT (bass) and CXC (drums) truly breathes life into these songs. The bass acts as a voice which transcends the aggressive, somber, loud, and soft moments on Lost, often providing the more active melodies. The drum performance is wonderfully understated, revealing its dynamics through the different volumes of blast beats, which range from aggressive slams to almost drum-roll softness.
As an album excelling at the mood factor, Lost can hang proudly with recent albums by Arcana Coelestia, Les Discrets, and The Wounded Kings. As a debut, it is a resounding success, revealing that An Autumn for Crippled Children are easily unique enough to avoid being lost among their legions of peers. Considering their skill and already veteran sense of subtlety, their next platter promises to be even tastier, but for now just sit back and take this one in.