Cold Comfort is the Dutch six-piece Autumn's fifth full-length album. While still very much making music within the metal/hard rock spectrum, they've diversified to include elements of progressive rock, goth and even commercial pop. But not for them the glossy production and symphonic arrangements of fellow countrymen Within Temptation; theirs is a far drier, stripped-down and organic sound.
stripped-down and organic sound
Frontwoman Marjan Welman's vocals remind me of both Rachel Cohen (of Welsh rockers The Reasoning) and Anya Orthodox (of Polish goths Closterkeller). The twin-guitars of Mats and Jens van der Valk largely eschew flashy soloing in favour of dense multi-layered riff structures. Jan Munnik's keys are seldom prominent, adding delicate piano lines or subtle synth washes rather than taking a lead role.
The album opens with a reverb-drenched guitar figure heralding "The Scarecrow", strongly reminiscent of the 90s "Northern Doom" of My Dying Bride and early Anathema. It leads into the delicate opening section of Marjan's ethereal vocal backed by intertwined guitar and piano lines, before the rhythm section kicks in and things get a lot heavier. The title track follows a similar quiet-loud-quiet pattern: quiet verse and heavy anthemic chorus.
"Black Stars in a Blue Sky" takes more of an commercial pop-rock approach, and largely works, although the middle-eight is far too much of a direct lift from All About Eve for it's own good. They follow with "Retrospect", another attempt at a pop-rock number, but this is less effective, falling short because the melody isn't quite strong enough.
"Alloy" is an atmospheric ballad, featuring one of Marjan's best vocal performances on the album, and one of the few tracks where the keys are quite prominent. I find it quite strongly reminiscent of The Reasoning's "Within Cold Glass".
"End of Sorrow" does the loud/quiet thing again, an atmospheric verse and great descending guitar riff, spoiled only by a weak chorus. "Maeon" takes a left-turn, with some bass-driven new-wavish goth-rock that again reminds me very strongly of Poland's Closterkeller. In contrast, "Truth be Told (Exhale)" has a strong progressive rock feel, with a great dense wall of guitar at the end.
great descending guitar riff, spoiled only by a weak chorus
With the closer "The Venamoured", the Closterkeller resemblance is even more apparent, with Marjan strongly channelling Anya Orthodox's wailing vocal style. It's an epic which builds from an atmospheric beginning to a big wall-of guitars ending which reminds me more than a little of Steve Wilson's metallic dabblings, and is a powerful closer for the album.
This is an album where some strong songwriting and performance make up for a lack of originality. The way I'm constantly reminded of other artists such as Anathema, Paradise Lost, All About Eve, The Reasoning or Closterkeller has to be the album's big weakness. There are many bands who wear their influences on their sleeves while adding enough original ideas to have a sound of their own. On this disk, Autumn are only half-way towards doing that, and they don't quite manage to transcend their influences. Certainly they do have some obvious strengths, not the least of them being a superb vocalist in Marjan Welman.