Of all the bands skulking around the doom/death catacombs, none manage to trigger more raw emotion in me than Novembers Doom. They aren’t necessarily the best band in the genre, but when they lock everything in, the melancholy pours like rain off a tin roof in Seattle. They’re the authors of one of the most depressing songs of all time (“What Could Have Been“) and there’s something unique about their fusion of Paradise Lost and Type O Negative with vaguely Opeth-esque style death metal that really drills down deep into the heart of darkness within. Perhaps it comes from the real life trials and travails afflicting singer Paul Kuhr, or some other wellspring of negative human emotion, but regardless of the source, the impact their music delivers is often harrowing. Bled White is their ninth platter of dour, mournful doom mixed with crushing death and they haven’t strayed much from their well-worn template. As such, there are no major surprises to be found, though I detect a stronger Trouble influence (no surprise as they both hail from the Chicago doom scene) and there’s a much greater emphasis on vocal melodies and harmonies. The result is an ever so slightly more diverse, melodious outing that keeps their trademark sound intact while honing its dreary edge.
As the opening title track unspools, those familiar with Novembers Doom will feel right at home, as this is the archetype of their style. The references to Paradise Lost are strong and the thick, heavy riffing is paired effectively with Kuhr’s death rasps while his baritone singing is counterpointed by more subtle and melodic guitar-work. It’s certainly good, but there’s a strong feeling of overfamiliarity and of having been here many times before that undercuts things. The same feeling pervades “Heartfelt” as well, though it rises above it through extremely bitter, dark lyrics and a sense of ominous foreboding.
“Just Breathe” is the album’s set piece ballad, and this is where Novembers Doom has made serious hay in the past. Older efforts like “Twilight Innocence” and “What Could Have Been” really got people’s attention and generated a buzz beyond the doom/death scene. This one is very much in the same wheelhouse as its predecessors and it’s a good, haunting tune where Kuhr gets to blend his vocals into facsimiles of the late Pete Steele (Type O Negative), the late Dave Gold (Woods of Ypres) and the thankfully still with us Eric Wagner (Blackfinger, ex-Trouble). The pathos flows freely, but it isn’t as good as the aforementioned songs and it leaves me just a bit nonplussed.
Just as a vague sense of disappointment begins to set in, Bled White shifts into an altogether higher gear and delivers the album’s best material. “Unrest” is heavier and more crushing, expertly balancing the hard and soft sides of the band, playing one off the other for maximum effect. “The Memory Room” is the standout, leveraging the genius of latter day Woods of Ypres with a trippy mood similar to what Trouble was doing on their Manic Frustration and Plastic Green Head albums. The music drifts this way and that, grabbing ideas from Pink Floyd and The Beatles and merging them all with death and doom to craft what can only be described as a wild mushroom ride. “Clear” keeps this winning hybrid style going and lays on the melancholy as Kuhr delivers an impressive performance. It clicks and resonates deeply.
At almost an hour and ten minutes, it’s a long album to be sure, and some trimming could have been done on lengthy, but enjoyable tracks like “The Silent Dark.” However, it isn’t a chore to sit through due to the diversity of material, smart pacing and constantly shifting dynamics. It also sounds satisfying and rich, which should come as no surprise, as Dan “Fucking” Swanö co-produced it. The guitars have plenty of power and edge and the vocals are allowed proper space to breathe and grow. That’s fortuitous, since Kuhr’s vocals are so essential to the Novembers Doom sound.
Although things get off to a slightly underwhelming start, Bled White ends up yet another successful and satisfying journey into the shadows of the human experience, sure to depress and dispirit even the stoutest of souls. It has real depth and genuine nuance, yet remains direct and accessible. In short, check this out and soak in the emotional waterfall.