Envy’s career arc can be captured in three basic periods. The first, from the band’s inception in 1992 through to around the fall of 1995, is the Blind Justice period – the band wasn’t even formally known as Envy until Dairoku Seki joined as drummer for its first recorded release, Breathing and Dying in This Place…, in June of 1996. From the unremarkable hardcore on this debut, the band then followed with a second period of constant evolution beginning with 1998’s From Here to Eternity and culminating with what is generally agreed to be an emocore high-water mark for fans of all stripes, 2003’s A Dead Sinking Story. These years are marked by a sonic struggle between hardcore roots and a post-rock push forward, instrumental snippets, singing, and improved production practices gradually creeping in from the fringes.
The final period since then has been about reversing the band’s way of thinking for the songwriting process. On 2006’s Insomniac Doze and splits with Jesu and Thursday that followed, hardcore appeared to be coloring in the margins while long instrumental passages and whisper-quiet vocals formed the basis for the music. On what is allegedly going to be its final release, Envy stays the course to craft an album as diverse as, but not more than, its predecessor.
Unlike previous releases, Recitation doesn’t feel like a step forward as much as a victory lap, the capstone to an impressive discography – a more fitting title would have been “Reification.” Whisperings on “Guidance” give way to “Last Hours of Eternity,” a song that waits until the last two minutes of its seven-plus runtime to finally kick the pedals into overdrive and for singer Tetsuya Fukugawa to bring out his familiar growl. Until that point, Recitation feels like an Envy album that has the potential to avoid loud moments altogether, which would have been the most extreme (and logical) conclusion to the band’s trajectory.
Instead, the most significant thing one can say about this album is that there’s so much going on. There are many more “rock out” moments here than on recent material. And then there’s the variety, from the sub-two minute acoustic instrumental “Incomplete” to “Rain Clouds Running in a Holy Night,” a more typical eight-minute Envy epic that cleverly borrows the melody from “The First Nowell” at one point. While it’s genuinely surprising to find how often Fukugawa’s bark comes out, the diversity in the music isn’t lacking. Things feel more compact, the extended contemplative moments of their later material still present but not as dominant.
Envy feels sharp here, like it wanted to go out on a high note that united its three periods and fans under one album they could all agree on, one more time. But Envy fans are by and large a loyal lot and would have universally praised it anyway, even if there wasn’t a single vocal or loud-rock action present. Recitation is as good a starting point for someone new to the band as it is an ending point for someone who rolls their eyes when they see “skramz,” but it won’t be of much use to listeners beyond the limited scope of those who once valued emocore as something viable.