Novembers Doom, as befits their name I suppose, is a death doom band out of Chicago. Now at first, that statement would seem unremarkable. I mean, half the bands you hear about now are some sort of conglomeration of death, doom, sludge, stoner… something related to the 70's, probably with lava lamp lettering in their logo. However, that's only if you didn't know that these guys have actually been around since 1989, and that they actually have real songwriting talent on their side.
"So wait", you're saying, "they don't just drone on and on for 15 minutes…and they have actual hooks?"
Yes! And they actually manage to mix heroic sounding clean vocals into their death growls in a way you can actually take seriously!
Alright, enough sarcasm. So Bled White is the latest album from the death doom veterans, and if you're totally unfamiliar with their sound, think of them as a mix of My Dying Bride, latter era Dark Tranquility and perhaps a few stray marks of Amorphis and Agalloch thrown in there as well. Perhaps another way to think of them would be like a less-proggy, more hook-laden version of Insomnium (though that band's latest album is nothing to sneeze at either).
Novembers Doom apparently made a conscious effort to make the lyrics more personal on this record, or at least less fantasy-laden then on older releases like Aphotic, Of Sculptured Ivy and Stone Flower, and The Novella Reservoir. Though they definitely seem capable of lyrical diversity, this approach seems more effective on the glorious "Heartfelt" and falls a little flat on "The Brave Pawn." There's nothing wrong with having blunt, straightforward lyrics. I mean, not every doom-related song has to be about dead flowers and fallen mistresses wandering in some graveyard near an abandoned Gothic cathedral. But on music as self-consciously epic as this, it can come off a little awkward to hear lines like "with a desperate look / in my eyes / now is when / I need you to believe me". In a way, putting personal lines over such heavy chord progressions and double bass pedaling makes them even more noticeable, but perhaps that was vocalist Paul Kuhr's intention. And while this approach didn't always work with me, I honor it as a bold move.
And though Kuhr hails from the midwestern United States, one cannot help but hear echoes of that fine Englishman Aaron Stainthorpe in both the clean and harsh vocals. This is especially true on a song so sorrowful and powerful like "The Grand Circle". This isn't meant as a slight to Kuhr or anyone else in the band, I only mention it as a frame of reference. And while we're on that subject, the band must have been listening to a lot of Katatonia when they made "Clear", a clean sung rocker with a crescendo-like rhythm section interspersed with serene guitar parts.
I really should compliment guitarists Larry Roberts and Vito Marchese for crafting engaging, memorable guitar parts, ones that help frame the drama of the entire record. Longer pieces like "Just Breathe" and "The Silent Dark" must have been a stretch for their ideas. And the band sets the album up well by putting three no nonsense, death-heavy tracks up front to get the listener going before diving into more complicated territory. The squeaky clean production provides plenty of space for all the elements of the music to be noticed, even if it's not my normal cup of tea. It's nice to hear doom that isn't totally aping the 1970's without having the hooks to justify it.
Favorite Songs: "Bled White", "Heartfelt", "Clear", "The Memory Room"
When he's not infuriating people with his album reviews, Drew Zalucky is busy writing for his political website, For the Sake of Argument