I have an admission to make, and it’s not an easy one. Until the past few weeks, I had never heard of Italy’s Novembre. Yes, as Angry Metal Guy‘s resident doom meister who worships at the altar of the Peaceville Three, considers Funeral‘s From These Wounds a desert-island album, and champions any band that possesses The Riff of Sorrow, I had neglected to check out one of Italy’s heralded progressive exports. Part of that could be the fact that Novembre were dormant following their last album, 2007’s The Blue. Thankfully, I’ve been given a chance to rectify that now that band leader Carmelo Orlando and company have released their first album in over nine years, URSA (abbreviated from “Union des Républiques Socialistes Animales“), which is also the first without longtime drummer (and Carmelo’s brother) Giuseppe Orlando.
With a serene backdrop of an ocean breaking waves upon the sand, “Australis” sets up URSA nicely. Orlando and fellow guitarist Massimiliano Pagliuso blanket each other with beautiful melodies and soulful leads, conjuring up a nice mix of Images and Words-era Dream Theater, Blackwater Park-era Opeth, and modern day Anathema. New drummer David Folchitto does a phenomenal job painting a good rhythm, peppering fills only when necessary and tastefully while bassist Fabio Fraschini fills in the pocket nicely with his tone. I normally dread songs that stretch beyond the seven-minute mark, but “Australis” felt more like listening to a beautiful, dynamic painting that opened up the more it went on. Aurally scenic and breath-taking.
Novembre, though a doom band at heart, aren’t afraid of using all colors at their disposal to craft a remarkable song. “Annoluce” sounds as morosely, wonderfully blue as the cover for Katatonia‘s Tonight’s Decision album, which is fitting as Katatonia‘s Anders Nyström contributes a lead and backing guitar melodies to the track. “Oceans of Afternoons” finds the band veering into Cynic territory vocally, with Orlando’s melody spread out to two octaves, and punctuated with a beautiful saxophone piece to play the song out. “Bremen,” the album’s closest thing to a death metal song, also feels incredibly optimistic and colorful with its uplifting melodies and urgent riffs. But it’s standout track “The Rose” that digs its hooks in the most, with its 6/8 waltzing rhythms, captivating guitar melodies, soaring lead guitars, and some of Orlando’s strongest vocals (both clean and death growls).
Produced by Dan Swanö, URSA sounds vibrant and lush. The guitars have the proper bite and heft to them without being overpowering, the bass is completely audible throughout the album, and the drums feel organic and lively. But if there was a complaint to be had with URSA, and I’ll admit right now that it comes down to personal taste, it would be with the clean vocals of Carmelo Orlando. His growling voice is incredible and discernible, but his nasally singing is an acquired taste if there ever was one. On some songs, like “The Rose,” his voice blends and soars beautifully, but on others (“Australis” and “Annoluce”), it does get a bit annoying. Again, that may be just a matter of taste, as this album is otherwise phenomenal.
Nine years is a long time between albums, but if that’s what it takes to craft something this beautiful, then take all the time needed. URSA finds Novembre in fine form, showing no signs of rust or atrophy. This also finds me hunting through their back catalog, as URSA is absolutely captivating and enjoyable. Welcome back, and stay awhile.