It’s tempting to bring up the old cliché about The Velvet Underground when discussing Envy. Their earlier records were received by mostly a cult audience, but everyone who heard them started a band—and most of those bands likely hailed from Northern California and played metal. TL;DR you can thank Envy indirectly for records like Sunbather; the Tokyo hardcore band built a nearly three-decade career on pairing intense, epic bursts of hardcore with beautiful, even sometimes delicate post-rock arrangements. We take these aesthetic fusions for granted because they’ve come to be standard in heavy music, but in the ’90s and early ’00s, Envy stretched these extremes of both emotion and sonic power farther than they were expected to go—simultaneously.
Yet where underground legends sometimes burn out well before having the chance to see the bands they’ve influenced become peers, Envy maintained a steady and active career more than two decades after they began. With The Fallen Crimson, however, their return after several years of relative silence comes as something of a surprise. In 2016, a year after the release of Atheist’s Cornea, vocalist Tetsuya Fukagawa announced his departure from the band, closing a 21-year-streak of endorphin-releasing barks. The band soldiered on for a while, with a rotating cast of vocalists that they described as an “Envy karaoke tournament,” though the band was seemingly just waiting for that final straw. Until in 2018, two years to the day after his departure, Fukagawa returned to perform with the band, unannounced to the public. Though the band wasn’t 100 percent restored to its original lineup, Envy was once again Envy.
The Fallen Crimson might not be a miracle per se, but the arrival of the band’s seventh album was long in doubt. For a band that for two years were precariously on the cusp of falling apart, it finds them sounding the strongest they have in a decade. As with the best of their records, The Fallen Crimson is a big album—big sounds, big ideas, a big heart. On some level, Envy’s aim has always been to overwhelm, and on their latest, they once again succeed.
The album represents Envy’s broadest spectrum. As they’ve evolved over 25 years, their sound has come to encompass blistering punk bursts, complex post-rock arrangements and even moving lullabies of sorts, all of which are presented in some form on The Fallen Crimson. “Statement of Freedom” is the first of these, all surge and roar, a direct application of the band’s explosive post-hardcore. Triumphant guitar leads are the guiding characteristic in “Swaying Leaves and Scattering Breath,” and there’s a tension driving “A Faint New World,” one even more climactic than the band’s most unfettered moments of hardcore assault. But it’s in the epic moments like closing track “A Step In the Morning Glow” where all of these various threads come together, offering a view of the whole of Envy’s spectrum in one self-contained, devastatingly beautiful piece.
In some ways, The Fallen Crimson could be accurately described as a “reunion album,” considering the band did splinter and then partially reform before it was recorded. It just happened in shorter fashion than we typically think of such things. Hearing their first new music in five years is a reminder of how much raw emotional power and sheer beauty there is in Envy’s music—two complementary qualities the full influence of which we’re likely still yet to see. The Fallen Crimson isn’t a miracle, perhaps, but it is a gift.
Label: Temporary Residence
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.