2017 is already off to a good start doom-wise, with Pallbearer and Oceanwake dropping quality platters of mope and dope(smoker) on our collective shoulders. Now comes Novembers Doom‘s new opus de emotionale, Hamartia. The word “Hamartia” is defined as a fatal flaw in a hero or heroine which will ultimately lead to their tragic downfall. What better subject matter for another oversized dose of doom/death from Chicago’s finest? With the same lineup returning from 2014s Bled White, Hamartia is familiar in its overall approach, but marks a departure for the band. Where past albums focused more on the death metal end of the pool with a few morose pieces of somber depression appearing, this is the inverse – much more doom-based with a greater dependence on clean vocals than ever before. It’s still the band you know, but a gentler, more introspective version.
Opener “Devil’s Light” is a typical ND cut, leveraging Paul Kuhr’s deep, resonant death roars over mid-tempo chugs spiced with melodic harmonies ripped straight from the heart of a cold Finnish winter (i.e. any Before the Dawn or Black Sun Aeon album). It’s dramatic and heavy without being innovative or surprising. The top-shelf goodies arrive with “Plague Bird” where the band’s penchant for dark, dreamy melancholy is reaffirmed and made palpable by Kuhr’s morose, goth-rock vocals which split the baby between David Gold (Woods of Ypres) and Peter Steele (Type O Negative). The song’s grim energy comes from the juxta…ahem, abutment of the clean vocals to the death roars, resulting in an eerily beautiful song that sticks with you.
That in turn is immediately topped by album standout “Ghost,” which is a grand salami of rich, creamy doom with Kuhr’s plaintive singing mingling excellently with his death rattle for a stunning chorus full of pathos, despair and menace. This is Novembers Doom at their best and there’s a unique power to the writing and performance. It’s after this that things get more subdued, with a series of death-free sadboy tunes like “Ever After” and the title track, both of which are quite good and atmospheric, showcasing the doomier side of the band. The former has a big Woods of Ypres feel, while the latter has the same brooding intensity as the best Tiamat material. The band knows how to write harrowing, emotionally draining music, but the abundance of melancholic cuts likes these makes the album feel tamer and more restrained than past Novembers Doom outings.
Things close out well with the very Moody Blues-like “Waves in the Red Cloth,” and the lengthy emotional roller-coaster of “Borderline,” which is like the trippy, Beatles-esque stuff Trouble did later in their career mixed with the aforementioned Woods of Ypres. These concluding tracks are not particularly heavy nor deathy, cementing the album’s laid back nature, so those looking for more extreme fare may be left on the outside looking in.
Novembers Doom are known for excellent production jobs and Hamartie is another good one1. It’s clean and dynamic with a crisp, full sound. The guitars have a thick, hefty tone and Kuhr’s low-register growls and baritone reverberate powerfully. Though 57 minutes long, it doesn’t feel it. The fact most of the songs are in the 3-5 minute range helps immensely, and this feels less overstuffed than Bled White.
After 10 albums, Paul Kuhr is the sole original member. His vocals always defined Novembers Doom and never more so than right here. This is the most I can recall him ever singing on an album and though it makes for a lighter collection of songs, the album practically drips with emotion and desperation. The flip side to this is with so much clean singing, Kuhr’s limitations become more apparent. Though blessed with a great tone and timbre, he never really goes beyond his usual semi-spoken, gothy croon. This isn’t a major issue, but the relative absence of heavier, death metal moments results in a less diverse palette with a wee bit of monotony creeping in. The guitar-work by Larry Roberts and Vito Marchese however is first-rate. Though they have fewer opportunities to go really heavy or deliver Opeth-ish riffage, they still infuse their leads and harmonies with plenty of smart melodic hooks and acoustic flourishes and deliver emotive solo-work.
Hamartia is yet another high-quality album from a very unique and consistent group. I might quibble over the relative death and doom ratio, but the material is still gripping and as dark as a murderer’s soul. Whatever Novembers Doom‘s personal hamartia may be, it’s yet to be discovered and exploited, and I hope it remains ever thus. Novembers for all.