Let’s just pretend the rumors are true. Let’s pretend that Envy is hanging their hats after this epic swan song of an album. If we suppose this is true then we should probably read Recitation as both an autobiography and a last will and testament. Recitation should then be seen as a document encapsulating the Japanese hardcore band’s evolution from standard hardcore, to epoch defining screamo, to cathartic post-rock that eventually culminates in a peerless and pioneering sound that brings all three periods under one roof. Beginning in 1992 and ending in 2010 (?) Envy’s career has left an indelible mark on the hardcore community and has perhaps done more than any other band in furthering the conversation of what the genre is capable of producing in terms of emotionally and artistically relevant music.
I realize calling out Envy as a hardcore band presupposes quite a few things. One doesn’t need to look too far back into their catalogue to realize the scene that Envy came out of or the limitations set therein. I had the chance to interview Envy last month for SLUG Magazine in preparation for the release of Recitation and their show in Ogden a day after. In the interview Tetsuya Fukagawa was not shy about his love for early Japanese hardcore bands like Lip Cream and SS while remaining tight-lipped on the question if popular Japanese post-rock/metal exports like Mono or Boris had any impact in their evolution as a band. It is easy to spot the early hardcore/screamo influences in Fukagawa’s raspy bark. Under no circumstances would I call his voice pretty, but in the context of the hugely cathartic swell of Recitation’s endless crescendos nothing else would make sense. In fact, Fukagawa’s vocals may be the only thing truly rooted in their early days as a hardcore band heavily influenced by New York hardcore band Born Against and the speed and thrashiness of early Japanese hardcore. The main thrust behind Recitation, however, is a little bit trickier to pin down.
Starting with a spoken word passage by a female vocalist, Envy plays quiet and reverent while a buried vocal choir soothes the transition into “Last Hours of Eternity”. A large tremolo picked upswell eases into yet another spoken word intro, this time by Fukagawa himself, before launching into throat-rending howl beneath the crushing dual tremolo-picked crescendo of guitars. This is Envy at their most crescendo-core. Explosions in the Sky and Mono comparisons are in full swing here, shading the heaven ascending guitar lines and exploding bass drum kicks.
Even if Recitation were an hour + of tracks like this (yikes), Recitation would still seem like a logical step from 2008’s long-playing Insomniac Doze and the ambient recreations on their splits with Jesu and Thursday. “Rain Clouds Running in a Holy Night”, however, makes a case for a encapsulation of Envy’s career instead of a linear progression out of hardcore. “Rain Clouds Running in a Holy Night” goes from a scream, to a whisper, to a…”First Noel” bridge? Que? Well, it works. When the carol’s melody is repeated in the context of the heavy, HEAVY last third of the song it is impossible not to at least crack a smile, if not pounding your fist unabashedly in the air.
Envy gets a lot heavier from here her on out, especially on “Worn Heels and the Hands we Hold” where Fukagawa rends his vocal chords and double bass-drum pummeling make for incredibly dense slabs of throat-choking noise. There is so much going on here it is difficult, near impossible, to take in all in one listen.
If this is in fact the end for one of the most relentlessly hardworking and innovative bands working in heavy music, then the world ended with a bang. A long (seriously long) fireworks show of finale after finale after finale, anthem after anthem after anthem. Envy has left us the record of their career. An album that ties together every era of Envy’s assimilation of heavy music and an album that Envy’s rabid fanbase from every period can find themselves in and embrace.