For over a decade, Envy has been creating and crossing their own boundaries in regards to what is possible within emotive hardcore. In 2001 with All the Footprints You've Ever Left..., they provided listeners with the chaos of Orchid and a certain melodic quality that would have previously seemed more suited for post rock or indie; all of this done with astonishing success. Building upon this unique quality was their 2003 release, A Dead Sinking Story, which found Envy at the highest artistic level of their career. Much of the chaos that had been present on their prior releases had been replaced by the more quiet and somber moments that began to surface on their previous record. This, of course, did not take away from the sheer emotion of the music, greatly heightened by Tetsuya Fukagawa's passionate vocal delivery. In fact, in many ways, the emotion was taken to new levels, which more than ever would lend itself to their most recent album, Insomniac Doze.
Though the path Envy would take for this album was rather clear to me, their signing to the Temporary Residence label basically set it into stone, which in turn set my expectation level on overdrive. Home to bands like Explosions In The Sky, Eluvium, and Mono, the label is a high-point for quality post rock and ambient music. Within the first ten seconds of "Further Ahead of Warp", it's very apparent what this album has in store for us. A single riff is allowed to ring as a second tremolo melody is repeated, already providing Envy's most epic melody of their career within the first minute of the song. Shortly thereafter, the melody breaks down into something more with soft drumming as Fukagawa's heavenly spoken-word vocals enter. Finally, within the second minute of the track, he begins the passionate and sorrowful screams I've grown to absolutely love over the past few years. Never, in any other genre of music, have I felt so much emotion from such a simple and monotonous scream; it goes without saying that I have no idea as to what Fukagawa is saying, as he provides vocals in nothing other than his native Japanese language. To be honest, though, it doesn't matter as much (or at all) as it usually would with nearly any other band. With one scream, vocal melody, or delicate spoken word, we're provided with an endless amount of emotion on various levels.
All of this is rolled into a single, nearly indescribable track called "Scene". Beginning with what seems to be a lost Explosions In The Sky melody and continued with more spoken word, the track explodes into a sea of cascading guitar melodies with the ever-so-light backdrop of a keyboard arrangement which, to be honest, sounds very much like a third guitar. This is, of course, not a bad thing and only adds to the depth of the track. This arrangement is repeated a couple of times throughout the track until finally, during it's last repetition, Fukagawa retreats from his mournful screams and let's the central melody speak for itself for the first and only time in the song. In doing this, Envy seem to be showing how very universal their music is and how very powerful it can be if left to stand on its own. As the track ends, I cannot help but feel like I've heard something unique and incomparable, even after what has to be my hundredth listen.
On a similar note, I think it's worth mentioning that the second track on this album, for the most part, seems to be a direct rehash of a large portion of "Chain Wondering Deeply", the first track on A Dead Sinking Story. Even more noteworthy is the fact that I had no knowledge of this until a friend mentioned it to me. It seems that only Envy could blatantly copy themselves and still seem completely fresh and original.
After the excellent "Crystallize" the album moves onto its most complete track - the fifteen minute "The Unknown Glow". The song takes a good three minutes to do anything more than generate a soft guitar melody. Being a complete song, it is still in no way the best song on the album. It is, however, an amazing track and should be mentioned if for no other reason than the three minute spoken word passage over a simple lone guitar melody in the middle of the song. I know of very few bands that could get away with something like that while holding my interest the entire time. Envy are one such band.
As the passage finally builds over a simple drum roll that seems to last nearly as long, the track explodes for a brief period and finally dies down giving way to the weakest or, more accurately, least amazing track on the album, "Night In Winter". After this, we are treated to Envy's greatest achievement, the gorgeous "A Warm Room", a fitting end to one of the most beautiful albums of this or any other year. For its entire seven minute running time the band plays what seems to be the same exact reverb-heavy notes. At times it seems as though there are five guitarists playing at once. It is so very ethereal at first, as the clean-picked tremolo melody continues for the first minute and a half, giving way to soft drumming and Fukagawa's almost obligatory spoken words. Shortly after, another layer of guitars is added as the drumming becomes more noticable. At just under three minutes the melody explodes from clean to distortion, the cymbals begin crashing in, and it feels as though the most amazing and angelic melody I've ever heard continues on for nearly an eternity. All the while, Fukagawa belts out the most mournful screams of the entire record.
As the album comes to a close, I'm generally left speechless and usually don't listen to anything else for a few hours. As it's probably evident, the word 'emotion' keeps coming up as I try my best to describe this album. It's really the one and only word that sums this record up on any level of explaination. Really, emotion defines us all and is the one thing that seperates us all at our core. By the same token, it also looks to be the only thing that keeps us together. I certainly do not know what Tetsuya Fukagawa had to say throughout this record, but I'm fairly confident that I know what he was feeling as he delivered the message. Envy have once again created a universe all their own, giving us a masterpiece of emotion and sound. Insomniac Doze is not only the best album of Envy's long career, but it is also one of the most devastating and beautiful records you're likely to ever hear.