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Originally published at http://suite101.com
While Novembers Doom can be an easy band to underrate for some, there is no denying that they are one of the oldest and biggest American death/doom bands that the scene has to offer. Originally formed in 1989, they have persevered through that time and have consistently delivered a multitude of acclaimed releases despite also going through a long series of lineup switches. This is the group’s eighth studio album and has been hyped as having a more progressive sound in comparison to the more death metal-oriented style of the last few releases. In addition, it features more guest appearances than any other Novembers Doom album before it but is also the last effort to feature drummer Sasha Horn.
The band will probably hate me for being the ten millionth person to make the following comparison, but Novembers Doom has always come off as being something of an American Opeth. In addition to having been formed around the same time frame, both bands use complex song structures, slow tempos, melancholic autumn imagery, and a ton of harsh/clean contrasts in between. Even before Opeth ultimately decided to embrace their prog-jazz rock calling, Novembers Doom managed to successfully stand out. Their songs have always been shorter, their imagery darker, their riffs heavier, and the transitions much smoother. In short, both bands are good but Novembers Doom have always been the better songwriters and arguably more creative overall.
But what really makes the band distinct is the performance of vocalist Paul Kuhr, their sole original member since 1999. Often going between a clear but powerful growl and a baritone reminiscent of Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes, he seems to opt for the clean vocals a bit more than usual. There are a few moments where he goes into unintentional comedy (Sorry, the growls during the verses of “Buried” are so prominent, it’s rather amusing) but his contributions are quite impressive. Fortunately, the rest of the band doesn’t slouch. The guitars have a dark sound that is aided by the clear production and go through a mix of murky riffs and somber melodies. The drums stand out on the album’s heavier moments and get plenty of opportunities to pummel the listener.
Also worth noting are the numerous guest appearances on the album. The touches of keyboards and violin are great but the cameos by vocal legends Dan Swano and Anneke Van Giersbergen are the most memorable. The former delivers some strong growls on the first part of “Of Age and Origin” while the latter effectively helps the band channel their beauty-and-the-beast roots on “What Could Have Been.”
As expected by a project with clearly contrasting sides to their sound, the songwriting is varied and each song manages to sound distinct. “The Dark Host” provides a good summary for how the album will be as it features heavy chugging during the verses, a softer bridge segment, and a cleanly sung chorus with an oddly catchy hook. But while “The Dark Host” is a memorable opener, “Harvest Scythe” is easily the album’s catchiest track. While its overall structure is similar to that of “The Dark Host” with its growled verses and clean choruses, it manages to stand out thanks to its interesting use of upbeat groove riffs and more elaborate hooks. Yeah, I can’t emphasize how weird it is to use the words “catchy” and “hook” in the context of death metal…
After the first two tracks, the album generally seems to stick with more somber, slower material with the heaviness still coming into play on occasion. “Buried” is an enjoyable track despite its somewhat disjointed contrasts and the closing “Shadow Play” features some particularly smooth harmonizing during its first half. But the track that should have everyone talking is “What Could Have Been,” a gorgeous ballad that makes extensive use of the violin and a duet between Kuhr and Giersbergen. While the pairing would suggest a desperate grab at the old goth metal formula, the execution is quite emotional with the choruses tugging at one’s heartstrings. As far as I’m concerned, this is easily the most touching ballad that 2011 has to offer.
As a listener whose previous experience with Novembers Doom is mostly limited to 2005’s The Pale Haunt Departure, this does manage to be an incredibly strong album and just might be one of the better that’s come out this year. However, it is also rather easy to overlook and its second half isn’t quite as emotionally powerful as the first. There might be an earlier Novembers Doom release that’s worth looking into but this is one that shouldn’t be overlooked. If anything, I would highly recommend to seasoned death/doom listeners and the disgruntled Opeth fans that haven’t already gotten into them…
“The Dark Host”
“What Could Have Been”
I have followed Novembers Doom with much enthusiasm since I heard "Amid Its Hallowed Mirth" three years ago. I was immediately drawn in by the genuine emotion. Most people dismissed them as a pastiche and will endlessly compare them to My Dying Bride, Opeth , Evoken and so on but Novembers Doom have created their own niche - they tell of monumental despair and grief beyond words and meld their philosophy with allusions to nature which might or might not be allegorical, and that is just the lyrical side of things, musically they bury this much emotion in an intricate sea of riffs and melodies. The effect is usually dramatic and torrential as they pour forth streams upon streams of melancholic notes and gloom infested melodies.
They have consistently stuck with their tried and true formula throughout their career but on "The Novella Reservoir" and their last effort, "Into Night's Requiem Infernal" things started to get decidedly melodeath due to the presence of more melodies than riffs and a general increase in speed that defeated the definition of "doom". On "Aphotic" the band struggles to return to their thoroughly doom ways and actually succeed to an extent. But even when they fail they still deliver with enviable grace.
On songs like opener "The Dark Host" and "Buried" the band pulverizes with thick legit doom riffage that echoes Candlemass at their most ominous and with shades of a slower Incantation.
Although "Harvest Scythe" is depressingly closer to to the style of their last album, it is still flawless in execution and delivery. Generally, the production is remarkably good. But if you've been attentive to the band's output for a while now you will know that that has become as much a hallmark of the band as Paul Kuhr's clean vocals. Many compare them to Mikael Åkerfeldt's but come the fuck on! If Åkerfeldt ever sings like that he should consider himself verily lucky indeed. Kuhr's intonation is far more superior and his emotion far more genuine.
Vito Marchese and Larry Roberts maintain a strong guitar presence and play some of their most infectious and rousing leads. The solo in "Buried" is immediately memorable.
Anneke van Giersbergen pays a visit on "What Could Have Been" but the song is already interesting for its interwoven musical fabric so she ends up being a tad surplus to the requirements. She does pull her weight though and perfectly shoulders Kuhr's calm delivery.
There's more pure doom to be found on "Six Sides" and the intricate "Of Age And Origin" suite but I feel more and more each time I play this record that this is an album we all must come to and unfold on our own, Novembers Doom has always been open to interpretation with their universal message of grief and just like most of their works, "Aphotic" requires (and deserves) patience and time. You can't simply wave it off - that'd be truly preposterous.
I'll give you my simple interpretation though; "Aphotic" is one hell of a fantabulous album and I'm deliriously happily excitingly enthusiastic about it!
My first exposure to Novembers Doom was in their very well-received The Novella Reservoir. I didn't hear the much less lauded Into Night's Requiem Infernal, but I had high hopes for the band's number eight.
Aphotic is instantly identifiable as a product of the Chicago death/doom band. It's a cleanly produced blend of mid-American death metal and English death/doom, complete with some excellent riffing and vocal work. In fact, the death growls are top-tier, while the baritone clean vocals (usually in harmonized layers) are equally powerful.
But despite the band's sound being instantly identifiable, the album lacks identity. The two-part "Of Age and Origin" is a microcosm of the issue. The first part is excellent, with the aggressive death metal contrasting to the ominous doom metal. This is what the band is good at doing. The second part is not so great, mostly because they go with the depressive kind of doom rather than the ominous kind. My Dying Bride has a knack for fragility that sets them apart in that regard; Novembers Doom can't pull it off.
There are good tracks, to be sure, like "Harvest Scythe" and "Six Sides". But there are too many failures. "What Could Have Been" features acoustic guitar and violin, but the guest female vocals take center stage, and the track doesn't have anything to tie it in with the rest of the album. Closer "Shadow Play" seems like an attempt at being Opeth.
The Verdict: When they are their own band, Novembers Doom are a very good band. But there are too many failed experiments and too much lack of identity on Aphotic, so it doesn't hold up very well.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/