Autumn - Altitude
Metal Blade
Gothic/Atmospheric Rock, Progressive Metal
12 songs (55:31)
Release year: 2009
Autumn, Metal Blade
Reviewed by Goat
Surprise of the month

Despite best being described as a mixture of The Gathering and The Provenance, Dutch Goth Metal veterans Autumn are different enough to make their take on the genre more than worthy of listening. Active since 1995, Altitude is only their fourth album, and it’s excellent. Vocalist Marjan Welman’s voice is the real pull here; light and as uplifting as the glider on the album art, she is more Poppy than Operatic but is the very heart and soul of the music in ways that most other Goth Metal bands never manage. Fans of Ayreon may well have heard her before, as she guest-vocalled on 01011001 – her voice is certainly more compelling and charismatic than Nienke de Jong, Autumn’s previous vocalist. She’s no slouch in the looks stakes, either; Gothic Metal bands with ugly singers are simply not possible these days!

Interestingly, the music seems less Poppy here than on their last album, 2007’s My New Time; more Prog Metal aspects becoming noticeable, for example in the usage of keyboards. You expect a certain amount of heaviness from the musicians involved – the brothers van der Valk on guitars (also of Cantara, Seizure, formerly of God Dethroned) and Jerome Vreilink (Massive Assault, Absorbed) on bass being the notables – and the musicians deliver, providing plenty of groovy riffs and the odd solo with proggy keyboards dancing over the top, provided by Jan Munnik. It’s somewhere between melodic Doom and the more commercial of some of the Prog Metal bands out there at the moment, but definitely more ‘Metal’ than the bands mentioned earlier. The instrumental sections are long enough to do more than just use up the time until the next vocal hook, and work wonderfully throughout with Marjan’s vocals.

Of course, the songs are all little short of fantastic, opener Paradise Nox going straight for your ears with pure catchiness before changing course and aiming for the heart with Marjan’s voice. Proggily building up to a brilliant solo, it’s a great start to an album which only gets better with each listen. Liquid Under Film Noir retreats to a more typical Autumn sound, the instruments forming a single wall of noise before it breaks down two minutes in to form a beautiful, almost ambient soundscape. It’s simply impossible not to love the likes of Skydancer, summing up that yearning and uplifting feeling which the best bands can produce and sounding like Lacuna Coil at their best, and Synchro-Minds, a ballad which leapfrogs from a How To Measure A Planet? foundation and touches Doom Metal before reaching a surprisingly mellow high.

The near-psychedelic The Heart Demands follows, those keyboards doing an excellent job and traces of Muse edging into the spotlight. Other highlights are the even-more-catchy-than-you’d-have-believed-possible A Minor Dance, hints of Tool in Cascade (For A Day)’s rhythm section, and Sulphur Rodents’ downtuned heaviness allowing the guitarists to shine, especially in the wonderfully melodic centre section, touches of Ayreon-esque Prog hinted at here and there previously but in this case really elevating the song. One major plus point for me personally on the whole album is the lack of any useless male vocals that serve only to annoy and hold the female singer back – Altitude allow you to enjoy Marjan’s voice completely.

Those more cynical than I (and they’d have to be pretty cynical to achieve that!) will sneeringly over-emphasize the similarity to Autumn’s aforementioned countrymen and relegate Altitude to the same shelf where they put all the Goth Metal bands which aren’t famous enough to be worthy of attention. This is missing the point entirely; fine, Autumn aren’t the most original band around. But in a genre such as this, where everything depends on holding the listener spellbound, bands have a limited set of colours with which to create their works of art, and whilst some make a complete mess, Autumn have painted an aural masterpiece, instantly familiar yet something which you can lose yourself in over and over again without it becoming boring at all. It’s great to be reminded that music can be truly beautiful from time to time, and whilst Autumn aren’t quite as majestic as some, they’re a band that fans of Gothic Metal should check out immediately, as well as Ayreon fans who don’t mind the Prog being turned down a little. Altitude is the best Gothic Metal album I’ve heard for a while; I wouldn’t be surprised if it worked its way onto my year-end lists.

Killing Songs :
Paradise Nox, Skydancer, Synchro-Minds, The Heart Demands, A Minor Dance, Sulphur Rodents, Altitude
Goat quoted 89 / 100
Other albums by Autumn that we have reviewed:
Autumn - Stacking Smoke reviewed by Goat and quoted 85 / 100
Autumn - Cold Comfort reviewed by Khelek and quoted 69 / 100
Autumn - My New Time reviewed by Khelek and quoted 78 / 100
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