Autumn - Stacking Smoke

(CD 2019, 56:50, Painted Bass Records PBR 19-001)

The tracks:
  1- The Phantom Limb(6:14)
  2- Old Fuel(6:34)
  3- Stacked Smoke(5:59)
  4- Blackout(6:27)
  5- Cyanide Sky(5:50)
  6- Where the River Ends(3:28)
  7- Thursday(4:05)
  8- Fury (Forging Tempests Part I)(4:17)
  9- Shadow North (Forging Tempests Part II)(5:22)
10- Shift to Silence (Forging Tempests Part III)(2:49)
11- Beacon (Forging Tempests Part IV)(5:48)

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A couple of weeks ago one of my best friends gave me an album. He said it was the album of Autumn, a Dutch progressive rock band. That's the beginning of my story with Autumn. That same day I gave the album a first try. The only thing I remember from that first try was the fact that I was blown away by the vocals.
I must confess that I have no deep feelings for bands as Within Temptation, After Forever and Delain. And yes, that's all a matter of taste. Noting more and nothing less. Right at the beginning of this review I can state that Autumn isn't a copy of the former named bands. Autumn has something extra or better said, it has something less. More about this in following paragraphs of this review.

Autumn is situated in the northern area of our country. Some say it's the most flat area in the Netherlands. Luckily the flatness didn't affect the music of the band.
One thing that struck me immediately was the amount of band members. Where other bands have mostly five or six members, Autumn has seven members. Three of them are guitarists. It's not my job to judge about this, but most of the time two guitarist will do the job.
Fortunately I had the opportunity to see the band play live. They were support act of Mystery at their Luxor live gig in Arnhem. Because the stage was packed with seven persons and gear, the show was a little static. They tried to do the best they could, but there wasn't enough space to move free. I think that was a missed chance.

Autumn has the following line up: Marjan Welman (vocals), Jan Munnik (keyboards), Mats van der Valk (guitars), Jens van der Valk (guitars), Ronald Landa (guitars), Maurice van der Es (bass), Jan Gijpstra (drums). Stacking Smoke is their sixth album in approximately 16 years. They proved to be a stable factor in their genre.

The album opens with The Phantom Limb. After a very nice short guitar shaped dark atmosphere the song goes ahead. My first impression was positive. The vocals of Marjan Welman blew me away at first. It is risky to say, but I felt the timbre of Anneke van Giersbergen present in the voice of Marjan Welman. To be clear: this is a complement of course. An additional present was the fact the song developed on a very smooth and pleasant way. The genre metal, which I though it was, was not the fact. The song contains more or less influences of the genres progressive rock and a little gothic.
The album continues with Old Fuel. The song is located in the extension of the previous song. The guitars are creating a nice layer carpet on which the rest of the song is resting. The dark atmospheres which are created by the guitars are recorded well. Every layer is prominent and at the end it doesn't sound chaotic. It's well defined recording, which I really like. The overall recording is done by Autumn itself and done well. This album is, with regards to recordings, far above the average standards of self-recordings.
The rhythm section of the band is good. Bass and drums complement each other fine. Furthermore the drums are steady and show much variety in patterns, fills, etc. It's not over the top and that I really like also.
In most of the parts of the songs the keyboard parts are not prominent. I think the most accents are on the guitar parts. Keyboards take the lead in some solo parts and some “bridge parts”. So it's obvious that keyboards are part of Autumn.
Stacked Smoke is a mid-tempo song. As almost all songs it's rather dark. The keyboards in this song have nice passages and build up tension between the different parts in the song.
Blackout has in my opinion more melodic parts then the other songs. The songs reminds me of the latest works of The Gathering.
In Cyanide Sky the band uses a different approach. The real dark atmospheres are put aside. The song has an open character and most of the guitar parts are “clean”. The song structure is excellent and this song is my favorite by far.
When The River Ends can be placed in line with the previous song. It has also a rather open character and the guitars are also in a “clean” setting. This means that the overdrive is put in level zero.
More variation is given in Thursday. Beside the bridges and the chorus of the song, the rest is played staccato like. This fits well in the song and gives a lot of tension. I really like this.
The closing section of the album is a musical adventure that contains four songs under the head title Forging Tempest.
First parts is called Fure, a lingering and dark song with a low-tempo. It's obvious that this is the first step to the showdown. A showdown which is followed by Shadow North, a mid-tempo song with very high tension grade. Especially the guitar parts are great in this song. It's a composition that I really like.
The third part Shifting To Silence is an almost three minutes long intermezzo which only contains guitar and vocals. The vocals in this intermezzo are thrilling. It is obvious that Marjan Welman is an excellent vocalist. As I said I saw Autumn live. I think that it's her strong voice that impressed me the most of it all. By saying that I don't mean that the rest of the band isn't interesting or so. The whole band consists of excellent musicians.
The album ends with Beacon. The song has a mid-tempo character and has also a strong tension in it. The vocals are in some of the parts layered. Further on folk parts contain harmonic vocals. For me this is also one of my favorite tracks on the album.

We can conclude that Autumn is back in the musical battle zone. With Stacking Smoke they deliver a nice album. It's an album which grows each time you listen to it. The album has a good ratio between the dark atmospheres and the light vocals. These two are in balance and that is what I like about the album.
Autumn has an excellent vocalist, that's for sure. Besides that Autumn proves to be a collective.
The only disadvantage is the tempo of the album. Most of the songs have a mid-tempo speed. It could be that some of the listeners find the album tedious. Maybe there lies a key for the future in much more harmonic vocals. This is just a thought. Overall I like the album and a rate it 4 out of 5, which is not bad for a band from the low countries.

**** Aad Bannink (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)

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