Chicago-based death/doom maestros Novembers Doom released their eighth full-length record on May 10 — the beautifully crushing Aphotic. The album continues down the band’s path of top-tier dark metal, with some of their best and heaviest material to date — Aphotic also includes guest appearances from former The Gathering vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen and producer / vocalist / guitarist Dan Swano. Shortly before the album’s release, Metal Review had the chance to bounce a few questions off Novembers‘ mastermind and vocalist Paul Kuhr, and here’s what he had to say about the band and the record:
Metal Review: Aphotic is finished and scheduled for US release on May 10, 2011 through The End Records. What thoughts and feelings do you have when you finish an album and wait for that release date?
Paul Kuhr: Waiting is the hardest part. With The End Records, since everything is manufactured and distributed through Sony, there’s procedures and protocol that a lot of indie labels don’t need to do, so there’s a full 4 month wait from the time we hand in the master to the release date. Having these songs completed and only playing them for family and friends gets rough because we’re excited about the music, and we want people to have it.
MR: Aphotic is the band’s eighth full-length since 1995, and you’ve released two albums with These Are They and one with Subterranean Masquerade in the last six years – how do you balance multiple bands?
PK: It’s never been a conflict or problem. Everyone know that Novembers Doom is my priority. Any other project needs to fit into my schedule where there’s no conflict. Novembers Doom is a fairly simple band to be in. We’re not very demanding other then the set rehearsal day, and when band related things come up, then it’s mandatory to be there. It leaves other days in the week open for side projects.
MR: Two-part question here: Your lyrics have always been one of the band’s most intriguing characteristics. You clearly take care to enunciate, even in the death-vocal moments, and there was a book released around the time of The Novella Reservoir in 2007, compiling the lyrics and offering explanations of them, as well as photographic history of the band. 1) Where do you get your lyrical inspiration? 2) To my knowledge, The Wayfarer Chronicles is no longer available – any plans for a companion piece, or maybe to update Wayfarer at some point and re-release it?
PK: My lyrical inspiration from To Welcome the Fade [’til now] has come from personal issues and experiences. There’s plenty of things in my every day life I can write about; I never need to look far. It’s difficult when writing from a personal place, because you will be judged and you put yourself out there, but the pay-off is the honesty. People connect to that, and then we share something with the fans.
The book is still available through our website, and it goes up through The Novella Reservoir. It would be far too expensive to re-print the book with every CD we release, so I’ve made the book into an iOS App for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and an iPad version. This way, I can update the app when each CD comes out, and then people get the next “chapters” for free.
MR: The lyrics are yours, but in terms of the music and arrangement, how does the songwriting process work in Novembers Doom?
PK: With Aphotic, everyone played a part in the writing process. The guitarists Larry and Vito would of course create the riffs, but everyone works in their [own] suggestions, helps with arranging. Even the rhythm section plays a huge part in how a specific song feels, so with 5 of us working together, we have different ideas to try, and when we hit the right one, everyone knows and feels it. It was a great way to work.
MR: On the topic of lyrics and writing: Aphotic features what is, if I’m not mistaken, ND’s first multi-part song, “Of Age And Origin,” which is divided into two parts. Can you give a brief summary of the meaning of the song and it’s origins and what, if anything, made it stand out as a two-part piece?
PK: “Of Age and Origin” lyrically is about that time in your life when innocence is lost and you realize life will be difficult if you don’t pull strength from somewhere. It’s the birth of that “voice” in your head that tells you how to advance in life, only using darker methods. It’s the birth of darkness that lives inside all of us.
We decided to break the song into 2 parts for a few reasons. One was time. The song as a whole is long, over 9 minutes, and since the second half has a different feel and takes it to another place, we felt some people would like to jump to the second half, and we gave them that option. Plus, Larry had Rush on his mind that day.
MR: Novembers Doom has had a revolving line-up for its entire two-decade career. Obviously, it’s inconvenient to keep changing members, but in listening to the last few albums, it feels like the band is the strongest it’s ever been. Is that the case? You have a new bassist for this record, I believe. Who is he and where did you run across him?
PK: It took us this long to find the right people for the job. It’s been difficult for years to have a solid vision on where the music needed to go and not having the abilities to do this, or not having people on the same page to work towards the same goal. We’re at that place right now, and there’s nothing weak. Our new bassist is Mike Feldman, and we found him locally playing with his two bands, Degradation and Judas Beast, which is an Iron Maiden / Judas Priest tribute band. Hearing him play, we knew he would be a good fit, so he was approached; he auditioned, landed the job, and is now picked on and hazed in epic fashion. Our goal is to make him cry. It may happen.
MR: It feels like ND has been getting slightly more aggressive over the course of the last few records, without sacrificing the patent doom sections of the band’s formula. (For example, “The Dark Host” features some near-blasting and some seriously rocking riffage.) I mean, even as the band still inhabits that epic death/doom territory and effortlessly pulls off the acoustic side in tracks like “What Could Have Been,” Aphotic’s death metal moments still come off as harder and edgier. Is the recent upswing in aggression a conscious decision or just a natural progression?
PK: Everything you hear is who we are as a whole. We have so much influence coming from different places, it’s impossible to not put it in the mix. This makes it incredibly hard to pigeon-hole us into a specific genre. I mean, “Buried” is a heavy doom song, and “What Could Have Been” isn’t metal at all. The one thing that connects is all is being dark — it’s dark metal. The aggression is something we’ve been adding in all along. It’s not something we set out to do; it’s just how it comes out when writing, and real life plays a big part in what the guys write.
MR: For several records now, you’ve worked with Dan Swano, and on this record, there’s a guest appearance by Anneke Van Giersbergen… How did those guest appearances come about? And now that you can check those two luminaries off your list, anyone else on your dream-list of people to guest on ND records?
PK: We never set out writing with someone in mind to guest on it. Once the song is written and being worked on, we talk about what, if anything, would embellish and add to a specific moment or to the entire song. On this release, we felt we needed a violin to accompany “What Could Have Been” and for a CD intro, and we recruited Rachel Barton Pine. For “What Could Have Been,” Anneke’s involvement was a bit more important to the overall song. It’s not about just having a female vocalist, but it was about the sound, tone and quality of Anneke’s voice. It had to be her, or that sound wouldn’t have worked. If she didn’t do it, that song would not have been on the CD, so I am eternally grateful to her for her involvement. She’s a good friend of mine, and I owe her a ton.
MR: I always like to ask this question because I like to know what music inspires the musicians who make the music that inspires me: what records are you currently loving, aside from Aphotic, of course…? Any all-time favorite records or artists that would be a surprise to ND fans?
Recently I’ve been listening to Greg Laswell a lot. He’s a singer / songwriter and he’s got a very interesting way about him [that[ I can see [is] musically similar to us. Also, I was heavily influenced for my vocal style this time around by the new Alice in Chains and Brendan Perry’s The Ark. I actually listen to a lot of styles of music other than metal, and that goes the same for almost all of us. We draw influence from all sorts of sources.
MR: You suffer from a set of fairly uncommon degenerative spinal conditions – if you don’t mind me asking, how’s your health these days?
PK: It’s rough. Since they are degenerative, they continue to get worse, and it makes things difficult. Performing live has become a challenge, as my back can’t support itself for an hour, so I’m constantly leaning on the drum set to regain strength in my back. It sucks, and I know it’s not the show people want to see, but I’ll continue to the best I can do until I can’t anymore. All I can do is manage the pain and press forward. The way I see it, eventually I’ll be in a wheelchair, so until that happens, any day I’m mobile is a good fucking day!
MR: What’s next for yourself and Novembers Doom?
PK: We’re going to use 2011 to play as much in the United States as possible, hopefully getting out to the West Coast at the end of the year and then possibly hitting Europe again in 2012. We’re all getting the itch already, so who knows, we may start to write sooner than later for the next release!