Originally written by Erik Thomas
Here’s something a little unexpected after The Novella Reservoir and Into Night’s Requiem Infernal…
After 2 albums that saw the band enter more direct, aggressive and pure death metal pastures, Chicago’s Novembers Doom has appeared to return a little more to the doom/death of their first 4 albums. Not a full reversal mind you, as the band is still more aggressive than anything on Of Sculptured Ivy and Stone Flowers or The Knowing, but there are more somber strains and clean vocals, reminding more of the band’s earlier releases.
Maybe due to side project These Are They fulfilling the band’s more aggressive desires and being a more appropriate outlet, November’s Doom has released a CD much more befitting of their respected, evocative moniker, and despite the album’s title, there is some light tucked away in here. And something special and beautiful has grown in the darkness.
After a My Dying Bride electric violin opening (shades of the Symphonaire Infernus EP?), “Dark Host” actually provides the album’s sternest death metal moments akin to the last two releases. But even within the burly blasts and Paul Kuhr’s distinctly enunciated growls, there are tangible threads of a more despondent mood, and the chorus is the first of many of Kuhr’s heartfelt clean purrs that arise on virtually all the albums tracks.
But from there on, the album is much more restrained, melancholic and refined. That’s not to say that it’s any worse than the last two albums, and I for one enjoyed the band’s more tenacious forays, but to be honest, this tone and mood just seems…..right. “Harvest Scythe” initially hints at yet more burly death metal, but the song ends up being a steady, mostly clean song trot with a catchy little chorus. But it’s “Burial” and beyond where the band really starts to deliver their earlier doom vibe with haunting acoustics and a slow and somber but still menacing march, with Kuhr really showing his range with some very powerful growls and soft, emotive croons.
Then the real cementing track of Novembers Doom’s return to their past is the ballad “What Could have Been” featuring Anneke van Giersbergen of The Gathering fame singing with Kuhr atop a backdrop of nothing but delicate acoustics and a violin. Of course, such ballads have always been part of Novembers Doom’s repertoire, even on their last two heavier releases (i.e. “The Fifth Day of March” and “Twilight of Innocence”), but this isn’t just a ballad amid an album of metal, it’s a detailed glimpse of what Novembers Doom actually does best and has done best for over 15 years and 8 albums now.
As if to offset the prior track’s beauty, Dan Swano (who mixed and mastered the album) lends his voice to Part One of the two-part “Of Age and Origin”. The aptly named “A Violent Day” has a mostly stern chug; it’s still a steady, largely cleanly-sung number dripping with doomy structures and layering. As expected, Part Two, “A Day of Joy” counter-balances Part One with more soft acoustics and some simply killer crooning from Kuhr.
“Six Sides” delivers a great and sturdy opening riff, reminiscent of My Dying Bride’s best mid-era moments, but again even with a death metal gloss over the superbly produced guitars and drums, the underlying current of sadness and despondency is simply much more palpable than on the last two records with the doom and the death interplaying perfectly rather than the death metal shift being forced in our face after 12 years of doom.
“Shadow Play” closes the album by perfectly cementing the balance of the band’s past and present, with a first half of soft acoustics and singing. But about halfway through, there’s a brooding build in the distance that climaxes into a huge death metal riff and sumptuous solo that closes the album with superbly placed emotion and weight.
As expected the performances are top-notch, and the production is simply huge, though I do get the impression fellow scribe and drummer Sasha Horn is a bit tethered by the reduction in pure death metal, as you can feel him straining to just let loose — but that’s why he has These Are They. But it shows how talented and skilled the core of the band is to be able to not simply stick with a style, but continually morph and subtly change their style while still remaining one of the US’s most underrated but consistent acts.