Novembers Doom - The Novella Resevoir Review
by Mark Hensch
I'm going to go out on a limb and admit that exactly a year from now I might have declared Novembers Doom's The Novella Resevoir as one of the best albums (metal or otherwise) of 2007. Though due out fairly early in the year (February 20th), this is the kind of music that will have staying power well beyond its time, and I'm betting Novembers Doom is going to earn tons of new converts thanks to this strong effort.
By now you should be wondering why I'm so positive so early into the review; the answer lies in the band itself. Turning plenty of heads with 2005's doom-death opus The Pale Haunt Departure, Novembers Doom were cited again-and-again as the new heralds of doom/death in its purest sense. The disc was sort of an underground sleeper hit, the kind of CD that no one expected to make such a splash but that did nonetheless through fantastic songwriting, memorable passages, and word-of-mouth.
In a great ironic twist, the band on here is almost entirely revamped. The November's Doom of old was a doom/death band with plenty of ultra-thick, deepest-throes-of-despair-heavy ala My Dying Bride. The band has now taken what I like to call "the Trouble" approach, and turned their doom thematics/tones into much faster material. The occasional gothic nuances (especially female vocal appearances) are also severely reduced, and as a whole the band is much leaner and meaner than in previous works; this new ferocity harkens to Trouble's doom in the 1980's, and thus the reference.
Love this new take or hate it, there is no denying that this is a special album. Throughout the eight songs on The Novella Resevoir runs a trinity of related conceptual themes; namely, that of water, love, and God. Though at a glance separate in nature, repeated listens reveal a world in which some maddeningly lost soul dives into a swirling vortex of spiritual apathy and intimate, dark romance. If that sounds familiar to you by now, it should; the only other time I've personally heard such a style of music described in this way is whenever I've read a particularly involved My Dying Bride critique. With that band still going strong, I honestly believe that Novembers Doom has realized that emulation can only drag a band so far towards success and now are moving in their own unique direction.
And oh what a direction it is! The punishing track that is "Rain" is undoubtedly worth buying the album alone. This fist-pumping sledgehammer kicks the disc off with an organic, swelling crest of thick doom, all before it stops on a dime and an eerie intake of breath ensues, the song next switching gears into manically thick riffing. The guitar tones are fierce, confrontational, and HUGE; they are definitely perfect for letting loose like the band does here. Vocalist Paul Kuhr (always a great singer) has stepped it up even further, his voice now hovering between guttural howls and shredding shrieks as his band shimmies in-and-out of shimmering radiance behind him.
"The Novella Resevoir" is a fitting title track, its melancholy clean guitar intro recalling the band's earlier work before a painfully-epic doom rhythm conjures images of giants throwing mountains at each other. Surprisingly enough, the band has perfected the verse/chorus/verse structure on this song, shifting between chugging, low-end verses and soaring, gothic sing-songs for the chorus. The band has also perfected transitions between avalanches of doom, flickering guitar melodies, and folk-influenced strumming that reflects on it all; this is a fluid song surprising listeners again and again with its versatility.
"Drown the Inland Mere" blazes in a burning intensity that really lies outside the doom genre. This is a brutally low death metal anthem, with plenty of abysmal chugging and rhythmic incantations. The band's subtle use of melody and Kuhr's excellent clean vox further adds texture to it, and the song retains a audio-visual hue of violent blue. By now I've been amazed time and again by how easy to understand Kuhr's absurd growls are, as I can make out every word, and "Mere" even has a lighter moment or two with some gentle leads burning in the chaotic murk.
I sincerely hope that everyone in the entire world hears "Twilight Innocence" someday; perhaps it is my hopeless romanticism, but everytime I listen to this song I honestly feel better about love, humanity, and the world. That isn't to say that "Twilight" isn't depressing or dark as doom should be; in fact, the song is the exact opposite! "Innocence" features no distortion yet manages to be one of the album's most emotionally powerfull moments---the symphonic effects, the meandering clean guitar notes, the occasional thunderclap of percussion, and Kuhr's smooth, elegant, and morbid vocals all mix to make a powerful ballad. Even better is the numerous ways in which one could interpret the lyrics, but I'll leave their soft creepiness to be interpreted by each listener.
"The Voice of Failure" steps up to the plate next, and much like everything before it, the song comes out swinging. "Failure" trudges from the depths of Hell with gloomy, dull roars, all before exploding into a fireball of hellacious, whirling riffage. Massive percussion kicks the assault off full-hinge and "Failure" pummels with a take on doom that is simply violent in nature. Gentle harmonic touches and clean choral vox add yet another nuance; amidst some of the most brutalizing material they've ever penned, Novembers Doom still maintain a sort of elegance to it all. The closest comparison I can make is Hannibal Lecter dismembering a prison guard or two to a classical piece in Silence of the Lambs, and if that glaring duality intrigues you, this is definitely up your alley.
"They Were Left to Die" is a descent into the deepest trenches of ocean, smothering its listeners with enough pressure to liquify bone. Like moonlight dancing mockingly on these very waves, delicate swells of melody shimmer and shine in the darkness, the band again playing up the beauty inherent in all grand doom/death acts. There isn't much breathing room in this claustrophobic track, and it provides an excellent cheap-shot to your ears for "Dominate the Human Strain" to come in and finish you off.
"Dominate the Human Strain" is the apex of the new elements in the Novembers Doom sound; the track combines unimaginably deep guitars with slow, thundering percussion, and fiery riffing. I'd go so far as to say that this vaguely reminds me Amon Amarth turned onto purist doom. The sound is unique, swinging, and maintains an almost-sickening level of groove, the likes of which could easily decapitate the unprepared.
Closing gem "Leaving This" marks a nod to older fans; a moody guitar line runs blindly into a folksy strum and some tribal percussion, all while Kuhr chants stark, gloomy lyrics. When the actual distortion is turned on, your eardrums should pop and your chest should cave; this is glorious, rocking doom of the highest order! Don't ask me how, but Novembers Doom have somehow taken the very essence of My Dying Bride and made it their own on this song...until the absolutely beautiful climax towards the end, the likes of which will be left for you to discover for yourselves and has most definitely solidified itself in my mind for all time.
The Novella Resevoir has something for everyone---romance, despair, joy, madness, paranoia, chaos, and lasting-power. Immediately catchy yet vastly layered, the band can be every bit as somber and gentle as they can monstrous and heavy. If none of the last sentence or so hasn't convinced you, this is doom/death in its most perfected form....this one is well worth hunting down.
2. The Novella Resevoir
3. Drown the Inland Mere
4. Twilight Innocence
5. The Voice of Failure
6. They Were Left to Die
7. Dominate the Human Strain
8. Leaving This
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