Sunday, April 3, 2016

Novembre (review by The Man of Much Metal)

Artist: Novembre
Album Title: Ursa
Label: Peaceville Records
Date Of Release: 1 April 2016
This album has proved to be one of the most difficult to write during 2016 so far. And the reason for this is the simple fact that this album has had me torn in two for such a long time. However, I have more or less put myself back together and have settled on a final opinion of it.
The album in question is ‘Ursa’ from Novembre, the Italian’s third full length and first in the better part of a decade. The fact that the atmospheric and doom-laden metal duo of Carmelo Orlando (guitar, vocals) and Massimiliano Pagliuso (guitars) have made a return for the wilderness is, in itself, a reason to be joyous. Their previous work was always very well received in the metal underground and many have longed for a return. Well, after nine long years since the release of ‘The Blue’, that patience has been rewarded.
On a first listen, I was almost euphoric about this, Novembre’s eighth full-length release. I have a genuine soft spot for heavy, gloomy, atmospheric and melodic music and right off the bat, I loved what I heard. The opening trio of ‘Australis’, ‘The Rose’ and ‘Umana’ had me gushing over social media almost immediately, such was the initial impact of the material.
‘Australis’ for example, begins with the soothing sounds of the sea lapping against the shore intermingled with a gentle clean guitar and soothing, almost breathy male vocals. It’s not too long before the heavy doom-esque guitars enter the fray and the tone of the six string when combined with a rumbling bass is wondrous; full of power but also full of stark beauty as well. The drums sit behind laying down a muscular beat, full of mid-tempo double-pedal action and a fair amount of groove. A rich growl enters the fray as the track develops but what really pricks my ears are the melodies. They are strong, memorable and addictive. The twists and turns hint at a progressive element and the accompanying atmospherics create a palpable sense of drama and urgency.
‘Umana’ is probably my favourite track on the album. Again it is dominated by elegiac melodies, lashings of layered atmospheres and that heavy dark/doom metal crunch that I find so compelling. The injection of spoken word segments are spine-tingling and fill the track with a raw emotion that tugs at all the right strings and, coupled with a sense of understated hope and euphoria, it’s the classic rollercoaster ride in musical form.
However, as I listened further into the album, I found my initial elation waning and with it, my interest. I listened again the following day, assuming that it was the late hour and my own fatigue that was to blame. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to be. The middle portion of the album just didn’t have the same impact upon me as the opening tracks. At this point, I actually shelved ‘Ursa’ in a fit of disappointed pique.
It was a few days later that I found myself listening to some music on headphones on shuffle. I heard a couple of Novembre tracks quite by accident but actually liked them a lot more than I had and decided to give the record one last try.
Overall, I’m glad I did because there is an awful lot to like about ‘Ursa’. I still have to say that the mid-section of the album isn’t quite as brilliant as the rest. I do like the vibrant, up-tempo nature of ‘Annoluce’ for example but I’m not sure that the melodies are as strong on the whole meaning that I struggle to pick out any other genuine highlights. Given my personal and irrational dislike of brass solos in metal, the saxophone solo in ‘Oceans Of Afternoons’ isn’t particularly welcome. And I’m not the biggest fan of the jaunty and quirky folk-like tone of ‘Agathae’ at the beginning, although the more savage death metal elements towards the end are rather interesting.
But when Novembre get it right, they really get it right. In addition to the aforementioned tracks, the heavier and more aggressive approach of ‘Bremen’ is a delight particularly when juxtaposed as it is with calmer, more serene melodic moments within it. Those clean, ethereal vocals are the perfect accompaniment and come to the fore magnificently here.
The album then closes with ‘Fin’ that opens in a sorrowful manner but then explodes with a cracking guitar riff and tortured gruff screams. The latter stages of the track hint at post-metal and ambient influences, bringing the album to a serene and majestic conclusion.
All in all then, the majority of ‘Ursa’ is a sensationally entertaining and engaging dose of melodic, highly atmospheric and emotional dark doom metal. For this reason alone, it is worthy of your time and attention. If only the entire album was as strong throughout, ‘Ursa’ would have been guaranteed a place in my year-end best of list. As it is, I still really like ‘Ursa’ and I would definitely recommend it to those of a similar disposition with a penchant for atmospheric and melodic doom. But it just falls short of being a jaw-dropping classic.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0
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