"Tamaracks Gold Returns" is a lovely piece filled with banjo fiddles and acoustic guitar. So much so that I honestly would not have minded Austin going full instrumental folk on us. It's definitely in my list of top songs for the year right alongside all of the most grim and brutal stuff to cross my path. In a word, stunning. And on an emotional level, a perfect introduction for what is in store.
There are still some of these elements to be found in the more traditional post black majority of the album. Single "Into the Northern Woods" has more emotive strings to dish out, just awash in layers of squeeling guitar melodies and throaty howls. I must say, the hooks can be quite splendid on their own. Some of these leads definitely pulled at my heartstrings and showed a fine ear for composition. I hear improvements from the last album in the blending of the guitar tone into the lush production, and this single's blazing solo reaches cathartic peaks when joined with the lofty choir synths, bells, and marching band drums.
I was more than a little worried upon hearing that overall the folk elements had been pulled back. I feared being treated to a more generic sound all too many groups are utilizing these days. Fortunately, the changes are a shift rather than a removal. Instead of a sticking with a sound Austin has become quite comfortable with in the charming instrumentation raised in the south, he seems to be treading new territories with the aforementioned use of nods to other genres and influences. Oddly, as I listen I contemplate the ever-evolving influences of the Beatles from boy band darlings, to moody rockers, to psychodelic, sitar-toting hippies. Austin may be far from any if those things, but the parallel in maturation is no less applicable.
Speaking of maturation, this album strikes me as the work of someone with changing sensibilities and priorities. As a man raising my own family and learning more every day about personal growth and change from career to home life, not only can I respect that, I connect with it. It resonates. And that's really what good music does. Despite my interest in sharing a release's levels of innovation, enjoyabiliy, and musicianship as a means to target different audiences and preferences, more often than not, what makes a great release something you keep in the daily rotation is whether or not it means something to you; and something so objective is the most difficult (impossible?) thing to quantify.
I write most of this rapidly via notepad just on first listen, but the words keep coming. And for me, the albums I name-drop most at the end of the year are the ones that grip me right off the bat like Autumn Eternal. There's something to be said about staying power, but I must again say that those with such a quality rarely fail to make such a strong first impression.
But hey, I've been jabbering too much. You came to hear about the music. It's difficult to distill something so raw and pure into droplets of information without losing the overall purpose. Just listen to the sorrowful riffs and engulfing atmosphere of "Oaks Ablaze." Somewhere in these woods, as the leaves change color, but never quite descend, you'll catch a glimpse of true passion. The essence of songwriting. The foundation that is so often missed by an otherwise technically proficient major release. That indescribable feeling you get when something just seems off. You can almost reach out and touch it in the haunting gaps of "Sleep to the Sounds of Waves Crashing" between the firey snare drums, deathy vocals, and incredibly fast bass work. That's not even mentioning the Gothenburgian guitar build or spot-on string interlude.
But I'll refrain from spoiling the moment. Just enjoy. Please support genuine fervor this Friday. We need more of it in this world.