Thursday 7 November 2019

November's Doom - Nephilim Grove (2019)

Country: USA
Style: Progressive Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 1 Nov 2019
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I've heard November's Doom before but somehow they never clicked with me. I have no idea why. Maybe I wasn't listening to the right albums. Maybe I was too invested in the English doom/death sound that was growing up around me in Halifax from local bands like Paradise Lost, Anathema and My Dying Bride. Maybe I just wasn't ready. Whatever the reason, they never engaged with me.

This album did from the outset. Opening track Petrichor rolls along with an inexorability to it, as if nothing in the world could slow it down except a pause or break decreed by the metal gods. There's a point in the second half that sounds like it came out of Sad Wings of Destiny and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, but as a breakdown from a drumming blitzkrieg that could never have happened back in the seventies.

Interestingly, the vocals are slow and harmonising, even when the drums are at their most blistering. It's almost like there are a couple of different bands playing at the same time and at completely different tempos but oddly remaining in sync throughout. Those vocals are clean, by the way, and eager to elongate and hold notes, though harsh vocals show up on other tracks.

I see that drummer Garry Naples is the new fish in the band, having joined as recently as 2011, so I wonder if he changed their sound (research states that may have been more Vito Marchese's doing, after he joined in 2003). I don't recall them being remotely this fast, even when they got going. If he did, good on him because the contrast between slow vocals and fast drums is an enticing one. I know what fast death and slow doom/death sound like and this is not really either but somehow both.

It's also progressive and comfortable with that. There's Opeth here but the list doesn't end there. There's also Voivod and Tool and Budgie and a whole bunch of wildly different bands. The title track is a great example of that variety, with a slow quiet build ending up firmly in death metal territory but with Sisters of Mercy vocals and Uriah Heep organ.

There's always been a gothic element to doom/death (hey, my favourite genre album is Paradise Lost's Gothic) but it feels a lot more obvious here than I remember for November's Doom. If songs like What We Become or The Clearing Blind had their elements of death metal removed, as indeed they are on the Matte Variant bonus tracks on the limited edition, they ought to be right up the alley of traditional goths. It's certainly much closer to the sound of My Dying Bride than any era of Paradise Lost, perhaps because they were always the more prog of the doom/death bands that I grew up with.

Given what works here, I can easily see them going more and more into a My Dying Bride direction, because the clean vocals work so much better than the harsh ones. The latter are done well, but they're unable to raise the level of melancholia on a song that the clean vocals do effortlessly. It doesn't feel like they're complementing each other most of the time, though they do that at points, such as on Black Light. Most of the time they're battling as to what a song should be and the clean vocals win those battles every time.

I liked this. I liked how comfortable November's Doom felt doing this, as if they've evolved their sound to the point where things just feel right. These nine songs all do different things but in a similar way, mixing death not so much with doom but with goth and prog. Each runs for a reasonably consistent length, from just under five minutes to just under seven. That gives them a decent amount of time to mix up their formula and do new things.

This will prompt me to go backwards and see if maybe I'll enjoy earlier work by November's Doom, but it certainly prompts me to want to hear whatever the next album will sound like.

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