Autumn - Stacking Smoke
Painted Bass Records
Gothic/Alt Rock
11 songs (56:53)
Release year: 2019
Reviewed by Goat

After producing the surprisingly excellent Altitude in 2009, Dutch gothsters Autumn pulled a swerve by failing to embrace that album's proggy promise, and reverting to the gloomy norm on 2011's Cold Comfort. It was by no means a bad album, but it's not what I was hoping for from Marjan Welman and co (now a septet after ex-Delain guitarist Ronald Landa joined last year) and eight years later, it's a pleasant surprise to see the band back together for Stacking Smoke. As you'd expect, it's something of a mix of the previous two albums, taking the adventurousness of Altitude and keeping some of the moodiness of Cold Comfort to result in a fascinating album that is excellent but takes a while for the listener to realise it.

The first point of reference for Autumn will forever be countrymen and women The Gathering, but it's more of a spiritual similarity than an identical sound; worth noting that Autumn have been around since 1995 and are equally as arty as their peers, if not more so. Autumn always sounded less intense and driven than The Gathering, introspective musing rather than wearing their heart on their sleeve, and there's a relaxed, laid-back vibe to Stacking Smoke that is endearing and lends itself naturally to repeated listens. The album shows the band's skills off well, songs generally sticking to melodic groovy yet unaggressive riffing with Marjan's pleasant singing atop, but the songs are complex in structure rather than poppy, lengthy enough to have time to explore without growing dull or repetitive and there's plenty of room for the keyboards to provide melody and experimentation.

The slowly building title track is almost Tool-y, leading up to some nicely implemented colour from the varied keyboard interjections and hitting a rather beautiful peak driven by the vocals. Marjan mostly sticks to the mid-range but does stretch herself at moments and although I'd have liked a little more emotion in her performance there are songs like Cyanide Sky where it comes through. Any band with three guitarists has to be capable of making a rich series of interplayed riffs, and Autumn partly deliver here, the likes of Blackout having almost Iron Maiden-esque widdling sliding over each other but mostly the album sticks to a generalised groove. Not a bad thing; opener The Phantom Limb especially uses this to great effect, contrasting it with more melodic sections and using Marjan to unify them.

It's interesting that the songs do manage to be as diverse as they are with this limited palette. Old Fuel stands out for containing a rare guitar solo, Where the River Ends has a woozy, almost dreamlike atmosphere as Marjan languidly sings over some technical bass and guitar rumbling, almost approaching a folky feel with the layered vocals, and contrasting wildly with the following alt rock of Thursday, driven by a nicely upfront bass. And this is all before the final four songs on the album, which form a mini epic called Forging Tempests, kicking off with the not at all angry Fury, building up with more Tooly groove in Shadow North, going more melodic and melancholic on Shift to Silence, before Beacon brings back the Toolbox. The tracks flow in and out of each other well but don't feel particularly different from the rest of the album, other than some sampled ocean sounds. Is that a problem? To a certain extent, as one of Stacking Smoke's main issues is that it can come over as quite samey on initial listens, and more could have been done to change things up, especially with three guitarists! Yet if you like the style Autumn have made for themselves and don't mind a laid-back vibe to your mood music, Stacking Smoke is more than recommended.

Killing Songs :
The Phantom Limb, Stacked Smoke, Cyanide Sky
Goat quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Autumn that we have reviewed:
Autumn - Cold Comfort reviewed by Khelek and quoted 69 / 100
Autumn - My New Time reviewed by Khelek and quoted 78 / 100
Autumn - Altitude reviewed by Goat and quoted 89 / 100
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