Doom is something that I have really gotten a taste for in the last couple years. A lot earlier, when I was actually playing in a band with a lot of doomy tendencies, I was actually terribly bored by most of it. But with the release of some really fantastic doom records that I’ve gotten into, it’s been harder and harder to avoid it, I like doom a lot when it’s done well. In spite of that earlier distaste for the genre, the one area that I’ve always had a soft spot for, however, has been well done gothic doom. Particularly the stuff with the “beauty and the beast” style of vocal interplay between well done female vocalist and growls. While this sound is hardly novel in 2010, Nox Aurea has attacked it anew with their second release (and Napalm Records debut) Ascending in Triumph.
There are two things that stand out about this record from the getgo, and actually neither them has anything to do with the music: Ascending in Triumph? That’s a particularly cheery name for a doom metal record, don’t you think? Secondly, the artwork is just really good. I know that a lot of people don’t think much about artwork and logos and stuff because it’s all pretty generic these days, but this is a really beautiful cover with some really solid artwork [no really, look at a detailed version!]. And, of course, these things go very well with the music contained within, which I would basically describe as early Theatre of Tragedy meets My Dying Bride sprinkled with pre-suck Dimmu Borgir. But unlike the aforementioned titans of their genres, Ascending in Triumph has a very beautiful, almost hopeful, musical presence that pops up from time to time. A few places where the keyboards wander into what sounds like a major key, for example. It’s kind of surreal.
But for the most part, you’re dealing with gothic doom metal. You know the stuff. Long haired kids with velvet shirts and too much eye makeup harmonizing their guitars very slowly. And really, they’re pretty good at it. Ascending in Triumph is beautiful melodic and surprisingly thick and heavy. The opening chords of the record really had me on my feet because I had been expecting something of the tremendous quality of The 11th Hour‘s debut (also a great Napalm release). The chords are thick, the melodies are haunting and melancholic and the guitar tone is really great. When the band switches gear into their slower borderline black metal stuff the screams are fantastic and there’s a groove that screws its way into your chest and makes you nod your head. Very, very slowly.
Of course, Nox Aurea suffers from a common problem of doom at times, which is that sometimes things get too drawn out and anonymous. With only three songs of 8 clocking in at under 8 minutes long (and only one at under 6 minutes), there are times when it feels like the band is working too hard to draw things out and stuff gets a bit repetitive. And while the music doesn’t feel remarkably derivative, it lacks a surprising bit of energy that even a very good doom record can have (see: Swallow the Sun or The 11th Hour). This could be the result of highly compressed and thick production, but it’s hard for me to say, in the end, it detracts from the whole of the record.
But I would be lying if I didn’t say that this is a very good album that shows some very excellent potential. The female vocals are phenomenal, and probably some of the best female vocals I’ve heard in a band like this since Liv Kristine herself on Velvet Darkness They Fear (which, mind you, is the standard by which all albums of this variety should be judged). While Alice Persell isn’t doing the operatic thing (yaaay!), her voice is crystal clear and her tone is quite good. The melodies she sings are also well written and fit perfectly into the framework of the music without feeling a tiny bit forced. In fact, I would go so far as to say that her vocals (and the interplay between the vocals) on the track “Mother Alethia Chapter II” and “My Voyage through Galatic Aeons” really were high points on this record for me.
Nox Aurea comes highly recommended from this Angry Metal Guy. And I suspect that their next record will be even better, this record feels as though it could use just a bit of refining. But I think it’s really impressive that this humble group of Swedes have actually managed to breathe life into a genre that I have pretty much felt was dead for a good long time. It raises some hope and it definitely also points out that given their recent record, Napalm is one of the best labels for doom out there right now.