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If I had to put together a list of the albums that meant the most to me, Altitude would be up there for sure. I remember the first time I really sat down and listened to “Skydancer,” about two years ago now. I stopped everything I was doing and just stared at my computer in awe, unable to think about anything else. The song completely captured me at that time and just swept me up in how good it was – that really hasn’t happened more than a couple of times, and even rarer that the rest of the album is equally as good. But here we are, with Altitude.
From what I’ve heard from their very early works, Autumn started off as a very typically gothy band, with all sorts of dark romantic themes and pretentious elements. But around My New Time, which I’ll get to soon, they stripped the sound of those elements and became a much more modern beast. The resulting sound was one I’ll compare to architecture – it’s very much akin to a high rise New York penthouse, with flat white surfaces, hard edges and a distinctly futuristic bent to the furniture found within. I know it’s strange that I’m comparing music to architecture, but it’s really the best way to describe the sort of sound that Autumn have. Far from the epic symphonic music of Nightwish or the power metal of bands like Dark Moor or Epica, this is very sleek, cold music from which emotion pierces the surface like the imprint of pursed lips on fogged glass.
The key to Autumn’s sound is really in the ensemble of the whole band together, but vocalist Marjan Welman, who was new on this album, is probably the best female singer I’ve ever heard. Her voice, warm, resonating and just a touch silky, is perfect to lead the disenfranchised through the cold abyss of the night that life can sometimes become at its darkest. That’s a big part of what this album is about, at least to me. Welman’s voice just has this depth, this great, impeccable tone, that nobody else can quite capture. Describing it in terms like “sexy” or something else is a disservice – she transcends those terms.
The music here is not very metal, only retaining that genre descriptor by way of the big, grandiose rhythms. On their ballads, Autumn has scarcely a drop of metal blood in them. The music is poppy on the surface, with sticky hooks and wistful melodies, but below that is a lot of depth and nuance. These are very well written songs – impeccably so really. There really isn’t much of a big secret to it or anything; they are just good, good songs. The band kicks off with propulsive melodies and then layers them over with different, softer melodies and creates this tapestry of sound, with a lot of different layers and parts to each song. I love that they start off with a sort of “rocking” midpaced tune, with rather nostalgic, wistful melodies and those sorrowful, aching vocals, and then just proceed to do whatever they want. With ease they kick into mellow, slow sections that almost come out of nowhere, yet make perfect sense at the same time. The songs become clinics of pure emotion, with the craft behind them so perfectly put together that you barely notice it until you’ve listened enough times to really just know the ensemble like the back of your hand. Because the band makes it look that easy to create a masterpiece.
From the opening burst “Paradise Nox,” the band’s sound is encapsulated right there – addictive melodies, luscious vocals and a rather introspective bent that surprisingly never comes off as pretentious. “Liquid Under Film Noir” is blisteringly complex prog, with haunting vocals and a mesmeric chorus, but then it kicks into this sort of loungey, almost jazzy bit near the end that just rules – it’s seriously just amazingly good. “Skydancer” is probably the album high point, though really most of the other songs are about as good. With its big, bombastic and yet longing chorus it will draw you in – easily the most accessible tune on here. But it’s also just impeccably done, as the band weaves it together with strong verse melodies and a dense, climactic sense of fulfillment by the end. This will be the soundtrack to every tingling nerve in your body as you awaken from sleep and find out what you are meant to do in life.
Further tunes like the propulsive, syncopated “The Heart Demands” and the riveting “Horizon Line” make every other “goth” band look like a bunch of posers. “Cascade for a Day” is a gorgeous, nostalgic song, and the closing title track is maybe the darkest on the whole thing. But from its soft opening it explodes into a pounding chorus line and then dissipates into a denouement of melodies that fall like evening rain, finally fading out with just Marjan’s stand-alone cry out. Very powerful. The album centerpiece is “A Minor Dance,” which starts off with some radio static fuzz and then jettisons into an unforgettable chorus:
Under layers of white noise
and through static, sounds a voice.
I want to hear the song it sings again (and again, and again)
The secret station of my choice...
Forgotten music in the noise,
inviting me to dance a minor dance.
On one level, it’s a song about appreciating music, about how music can help us through the hard times in our life. But on another level – which I like to think it is – it’s more than that. This is a song about the safe place we all need in our lives to stay sane, whatever it might be – music, books, the memory of a lost loved one; anything. Things get stressful; no matter who you are, where you’re from or what you’re doing, things get tough at times, and how do human beings cope? They latch onto something that makes them happy and gives them hope in the dark. They find something that can keep them breathing and working to get to a better place in life. And that’s kind of what the whole album evokes, as it is, in and of itself, the kind of thing that can get people out of those tough spots in life. I know it did for me.
Their songs are very vague lyrically, without much to really indicate what the stories are, but the lyrics are so well done that I don’t care – they spin tales of the dejected and the forlorn and how those types rise above their situations. It teeters right on the edge of depression, and some of these songs are as dejected as they are poignant, but overall I don’t think this is an album that wallows in that kind of mopey sadness that lesser bands have. The lyrics are all very personal and I don’t think we’re really supposed to glean their entire meaning. They meant a lot to the people who wrote them.
So Autumn’s Altitude is a work of art with a capital A. The melodies and songs they craft are soulful and emotive, and they stick with the listener very well. I think that’s really just the bedrock of any good music – that it resonates with a listener. Autumn do that very well. Everything in their music just seems to take off from the ground and soar. The album’s name is Altitude, and cover shows a plane rising above the city way down below. That’s what this is about. It’s a solace from pain and suffering, even if only for a little while. If you haven’t heard this band or this album, I suggest rectifying that immediately. Take a listen to Autumn and let your soul soar away, to mountains and the sea.
Fronted by a new singer, Autumn unleashed their fourth studio album, which they regarded as "a logical progression" from its predecessor. Personally, I cannot tell for sure whether Altitude was a progression from My New Time or a complete transformation of the band’s sound, but I am quite convinced the move was not a logical one. Nobody – not even the most avid or optimistic of fans – could have possibly foreseen the heights Autumn attained in Altitude. If truth be told, I had never expected much of Autumn, nor had I thought the day would ever come when I would survive a single listen to an entire Autumn record without getting bored, let alone have it played nonstop for hours on end. Therefore, I have to admit I had overlooked Autumn’s potential and had doubted their musical vision which had seemed to be drifting into more pop grounds; however, Altitude proved me, as it did myriads of other sceptics, confessedly wrong.
Autumn have advanced considerably throughout their career, especially in the song-writing department: the music on Altitude is better-thought-of and much richer than anything they had ever done. Yet, despite their diversity and the various elements incorporated into each, the songs have an incredibly smooth flow, which makes Altitude an endlessly enchanting listen. Autumn feel at ease playing the heavier up-tempo songs as well as the softer slower ones without affecting the uniformity of the album even when such opposites are played in succession as are “Sulphur Rodents” and “Horizon Line”. Moreover, Marjan’s voice does not falter as it straddles such dividing lines: it neither sinks underneath the other instruments during stormy weather nor fails to float peacefully when the calm comes afterwards. It has certain warmth which Nienke’s voice lacked – that’s why Autumn sounds more genial than before, particularly to those who found Nienke’s voice quite cold and uninviting.
Stylistically, comparisons can be made between Altitude and The Gathering’s Home, especially when Autumn's music is at its serenest, as in the title track, “A Minor Dance” and "Synchro-Minds", which is the most atmospheric of all three. Autumn are, nevertheless, groovier and less atmospheric in nature, which gives their sound an identity different to that of their legendary natives. "We set out to write music that captures our hearts or imagination, not necessarily songs that fit a typical format," Jens van der Valk, the band’s guitarist, states. Accordingly, it is actually harsh to classify Altitude as gothic metal since the range of influences Autumn bring to the table is evidently broad. The Camel-influenced tunes, for example, are masterfully employed in songs like “Horizon Line”, as are the prog rock elements, which endow this record with such a peculiar elegance. Thus, Altitude is definitely not a mediocre release whose scope is narrowed down to the basics of a genre.
All in all, Altitude marked a radical step forward – or upward as it were – and demonstrated the development the band’s sound had undergone. On the one hand, the music is lavish, opulent and multi-dimensional; on the other hand, the band’s imagination is proven fertile: their vision transcendental. Thus, the songs are more than just an employment of random elements and influences; they are an evolvement of those elements into a unique sound that is Autumn’s own. Hence, it is worthy to note that the fundamental change in Autumn’s music on Altitude is not solely "one of voice", yet one that has to do with their sound altogether—even though Marjan’s voice was the trigger the band pulled to fire eleven of their most musically-shattering bullets thitherto.
Originally written for http://www.metal-observer.com
Reviewing Autumn’s albums has never been more enjoyable than now. Autumn’s Altitude will literally take you to higher skies and reveal to everyone with an open heart a new world where the pattern is there but you have the colors to shape it to anything you want to. Altitude is a step forward from My New Time (or shall I say a step higher?), following a similar path but this time I must say that the band has overcame themselves! Altitude presents a new voice, the voice of Marjan Welman, who is more than a talented girl, she is charismatic!
Starting with Paradise Nox, one can immediately understand that this album will be groovy, heavy and it’s gonna rock! Heavy and playful guitars by brothers van der Valk, wrapped with prog-like keys from Jan Munnik and accompanied by the dynamic drum-bass combo of Jan Grijpstra and Jerome Vrielink, make the music more solid than ever. Marjan’s voice shines throughout the whole song with interesting vocal lines and a powerful chorus that will stuck to your head for days. Liquid Under Film Noir (Arsonist’s dream) begins with a gothic twist but instantly builds its mysterious sound to something un-labeled. There is also a quieter part in the song with distant riffs and the distinct voice of Marjan taking charge. Next song is Skydancer which we can hear in Autumn’s myspace for a few weeks now. Groovy and straight-forward, with a melodic chorus that will make you sing along for sure. The last turn in Marjan’s vocals reminds me quite a lot of Nienke de Jong’s (former singer) voice in My new Time album. Synchro-Mind is a “power ballad”, starting sweet and softly it progressively reaches to its outbreak. With very emotional vocals, quite melancholic lines and a mixed message, both optimistic and pessimistic, this song is one of my favorites.
The next song, The Heart Demands, follows the path of Satellites and My new Time, catchy, with some spacey keys, but quite heavier than the afore-mentioned tracks. A Minor Dance is a hidden diamond; it caught my attention from the first second! It starts with a familiar tune ( ;-D ) and immediately a obscure, methystic sound unreels in perfect harmony with Marjan’s vocals. Some parts between the chorus and the verses are very interesting, taking you to a slow dance as the song grows faster and reaches its pick at the very end. Cascade (For a Day) is another song where Marjan reminds me of Nienke and Horizon Line was somehow already familiar to me from the Altitude preview in Autumn’s Myspace. Next one is the song which I call the new “State of Mind”; Sulphur Rodents is most likely one of the heaviest tracks. You’ll surely want to head bang at this one! Answers Never Questioned is a pure ballad, very gentle and once again Marjan blew me off with her sweet voice. Last track is Altitude and for me it’s the perfect end as it sums up the album in its diversity. I believe this is a track that all Autumn fans will love.
Altitude! One simple word but it’s definitely not a simple album. This time the guys pushed the sky-limit even higher, bringing music to higher levels in every aspect. The drumming and bass are just amazingly combined (heavier than ever), the keys and piano are not just an addition but a basic element of the music and the guitars are mind-blowing in every riff, simple or complex, fast or slow. Marjan is indeed a rising star, one shiny, heavenly voice that promises many great things for the future and I’m 100% sure about this. In every song, in every minute, one will find something interesting and exciting, with each and every listening.