Novembers Doom has admirably avoided becoming a static recording act over its quarter of a century knocking around the metal scene. They started life as morose doom death but mutated into various permutations of doom and/or death over time. I don’t even think of them as a true doom death act these days, and lately they’ve been drifting toward the mellower side of Opeth and the glum mope rock territories trod by modern Katatonia. On their 10th album Nephilim Grove, they continue to carefully straddle several genres, doing their best to consolidate their influences. This material follows the general arc of Bled White and Hamartia, but sees the band upping the prog factor while mellowing things out somewhat. They can still craft an emotional tune, but for some reason, portions of Nephilim Grove feels less incisive and impactful. The music is still very good, there are some heavily melancholy tunes and even a few cool outbursts of vicious death, but overall it just seems nice rather than striking or harrowing.
Perhaps this is because for the third album in a row they seem to have coalesced their sound into a specific template and are sticking to it with only minor tweaks. You still get the classic Novembers Doom cuts, like opener “Petrichor” which mixes ominous death and some black metal ideas with sullen clean vocals come chorus time. This has always been a go to trick for them and it works well, but it feels more forced and predictable this time. I do enjoy the eerie and discordant riffing and they even drop in some blastbeats to shake things up, yet it still feels too par for the Novembers Doom course. The title track is one of the album’s better moments, with its quiet opening moments reminding me of latter era Trouble, especially in the way Paul Kuhr sings the opening lines in a very Eric Wagner-esque way. The song drifts from dreamy, moody moments into Opeth flavored melodeath and things get heavier as the song rolls along. The death metal vocals are used excellently here as a double track to Kuhr’s plaintive crooning and they add exceptional punch and power. Later cut “The Clearing Blind” is also very interesting, injecting a huge Katatonia influence into the proceedings as well as some nicely proggy writing which captures a bleak, mournful mood.
“Adagio” is also good, with gripping death rasps and doomy leads segueing into forlorn crooning that recalls Woods of Ypres‘ sadboi genius. The guitar-work on the song’s back-half is stunning and Kuhr’s soft spoken word interludes are poignant. This is the Novembers Doom I know and love. The bleak semi-ballad is something the band’s excelled at in the past, but “What We Become,” while interesting, isn’t as powerful as past moments like “Twilight Innocence” and “What Could Have Been.” Something holds it back from truly resonating, and perhaps they’ve gone to that particular well too often. The bigger problem is the presence of several songs that feel like filler. “Black Light” is the token aggressive death tune and it doesn’t leave much of an impact, and “Still Wrath” feels like a forced example of the band’s heavy-then-soft blueprint, lacking real depth. Closer “The Obelus” is an oddball, with clean crisp riffing akin to Annhiliator‘s trademark sound with some Voivoid-y off-kilter time signatures thrown in. It doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album and I’m not sure what to make of it. Though the album starts off fairly strong, the collection of lesser songs on the back-half drag things down and it ends with a series of cuts that don’t gel for me, making Nephilim Grove feel like a watered down product by a band that usually impresses.
As always, Paul Kuhr does a great job vocally, be it his deep register death roars or his sad, sullen singing. He’s developed a very distinctive style and approach which I love, but the way the songs are structured this time make it feel as if his vocals have to go from heavy to clean in overly predictable patterns. Larry Roberts and Vito Marchese always impress with their riffs and harmonies and some of their work here is out of this world. They seem to have been given more room than usual to explore and they take full advantage on cuts like “Adagio” and “The Obelus.” There’s definitely an increasing Katatonia vibe in their playing and at multiple moments I was reminded strongly of albums like Viva Emptiness.
I’ve been a fan of Novembers Doom forever, and I really wanted to love Nephilim Grove more than I do. It’s not a bad album, and it has a few really good songs. It just doesn’t feel as fully realized and satisfying as what the band usually delivers, and it seems too static when compared to their most recent releases. They’ve had other albums that didn’t wow me and they rebounded with superior outings, so I hope that will be the case next time. Fans of the band can purchase knowing it’s a respectable platter of depressive music, but it’s a few steps below what I was hoping for.