Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Album Review: Novembre - Ursa

Spring is the season of rebirth, the season of hope. It's the time when flowers bloom, the weather warms, and life takes a more optimistic turn. It is, therefore, an odd time for a band like Novembre to release a new record. Their blend of death and doom does not appear to be a fit for the season, which does make me wonder about whether I should be reviewing the album at the moment. I had similar questions last year regarding Paradise Lost's latest record, and my quandary has yet to be resolved. Mood can effect the listening experience, so can an album incongruous with the season be properly judged outside of its more natural context? I'm not sure, but we will give it a try.

"Australis" is the first track, which ushers in the album with soft ambience before the guitars kick in, washing over with slow melancholy. It's a very relaxing sound, but even with the band playing in restrained fashion, the clean vocals are buried in the mix and nearly inaudible. That ruins whatever mood was being set, and is only righted when the growls come in and dominate the mix for those few lines. Yes, they should sound more powerful than a laid-back clean vocal, but the balance is completely off the mark, and does a disservice to what sound like a good track.

Unfortunately, that criticism endures for the very lengthy run of the album. Every passage of clean vocals is smothered to the point of sounding like they were recorded from the next room over, unintelligible and weak. And with the Novembre sound predicated on atmosphere above crushing riffs, the lack of discernible vocals is that much more glaring. There isn't much to grab onto in these songs except the vocals, and they are as slippery as a floating oil slick.

That's a rotten shame, since the songs themselves are much stronger than the production would indicate. Novembre can certainly capture the melancholy feelings of despair you would expect, and they conjure some beautiful guitar melodies to show the beauty that can exist in the darkness. Even the growls are used expertly, and never overdone. The compositions show a deft touch and plenty of skill, but the execution lets them down. A song like "Annoluce" should be fantastic, with it's slightly more upbeat tempo, and melodic chorus that reminds me of the best of Katatonia, for more reasons than Jonas Renske's guest appearance. It's a song that hits all the right beats, but is again hindered by the production. With a stronger singer, it could be remarkable, but as it stands I have trouble understanding what I just heard.

Though the timing for "Ursa" may not be right, I really found myself wanting to like this album. It is full of forlorn longing, but done in a beautiful way that doesn't feel like you're falling into the depths of an inky abyss. There's a lot to like in "Ursa", and I think I would find myself a fan of the record, if only I could properly hear it.

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