Album Review: Envy

Let’s take a moment to think about a couple of musical terms in their most cynically base forms. Post-rock. What does it mean exactly? Stood looking back on a decade or so of bands intent on dishing out tinnitus not just through volume but through stealth, we know what it now stands for – quiet guitar, loud guitar, quieter guitar, loud guitar, same beat stretched over fifteen minutes in order to get the tempo slow enough, abrupt halt at the end so you don’t have to strain over the noise to hear your own head imploding. Once a term intended to embrace all those who expanded, perverted and developed the rock template, it’s now a rigid template itself. And what of Hardcore, what springs to mind? Am I being jaded in thinking it will be some greasy, pasty, black-clad boy-band going shred, growl, shred faster, employ two bass pedals, growl louder, feedback? Where once it could have been potentially the broadest of terms for any music pushing some sort of extremity, as a word associated primarily with one type of guitar racket it has been allowed to fall into its own grubby pair of semantic handcuffs.

So why am I asking? Because envy are somewhere between the two (post-rockcore, if you will) but their new album Insomniac Doze proves that they can and will willingly bend your expectations of these tags largely out of shape. Obviously it is not requisite that every band on the Rock Action label sound like Mogwai, but with the sort of parallels that this album draws with, say, Young Team – immensely haunting and expectant guitar passages when it’s quiet; overwhelmingly climactic pummelling sound when it’s loud – you can see why there is a mutual appreciation (although who copied who is open to debate, seeing as envy formed over fifteen years ago). And there is a large element of hardcore here too, with vocalist Tetsuya Fukagawa hoarsely screaming in Japanese about “crooked oaths” and “words of disqualification” and “the sequel to long-felt pain”. What’s more, they’ve got a French horn and they’re going to use it.

Despite the grandiose opening of ‘Further ahead of warp’ coming down with a weight and force that sounds like it could split your speakers clean in half, the album seems to blossom atmospherically the further it goes on and, hence, later tracks tend to benefit from the development of such a noisy ambience. Aptly it’s fifteen minute-long ‘The unknown glow’ that shines brightest, which after the initial sonic onslaught settles into a woozy haze of chiming guitars and twinkling bells as lyrics are recited over the top. Yes, there is a sense that you have heard it all before – although they have enough to distinguish themselves from the most highly regarded post-rock bands, it’s difficult not to feel that they sound very similar, only with throat-bothering vocals. But it doesn’t make it any less powerful or impressive, as shown by how seven tracks manages to captivate for nigh on an hour and still leave you feeling like you’d happily be shown the light in the darkness straight again. Take their hand…

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