NOVEMBERS DOOM’s latest has been a reeeeaallly difficult one for me to review, which has resulted in a monumental delay in getting this done, but I had big problems wrapping my mind around the slab of music that is “Aphotic”. I had loved their previous effort “Into Night’s Requiem Infernal” and was really looking forward to their eighth full-length album.
Now the Chicago-based band never has been one that went for “predictable”, “catchy” or “straight”, even though many of the melodies would stick to your memory like super glue, so it should not come as a surprise that “Aphotic” once more is not really what you would expect to come from the speakers, but even expecting the unexpected is not a miracle cure for writer’s block, I can tell you that. For some reason this time around some of the more progressive twists seem to not be able to been as compatible with my brain cells or something... And while I had already attested their previous album “it might take a little longer to get into”, it was nothing compared to this one...
Several of the tracks on here are inherently faster and more aggressive than many of their earlier outings, which might take a few people aback, but once you acquaint yourself with this, the constant intertwining of these parts with the cleanly sung and more melancholic passages, make “Aphotic” a NOVEMBERS DOOM album after all, not least thanks to the excellent growls of Paul Kuhr and his very fitting clear voice that manages to transport the strong emotions of his lyrics (and music) as a nigh-perfect vehicle in the context of the album and as much of a trademark of the band by now, as the strong and clear production that gives the exuded emotions the perfect room to breathe and develop.
The ominous violin intro of “The Dark Host” makes you uneasily look around into the dark corners of the room, almost expecting something to jump out at you and something indeed DOES jump out – the surprisingly heavy, fast and aggressive outbreak or Death Metal coming your way, catching you unaware, before slowing things down into mid-paced regions and the menacing growls of Paul before introducing his clear baritone voice over the recurring melody of the intro and then breaking things down to just a clean guitar, just to whack you over the head again with another ferocious lashing that reaches all the way to blastbeats. So talk about not predictable! “Harvest Scythe” probably stands the closest to “Into Night’s Requiem Infernal” in its structure and atmosphere, living off the contrast between intense growls and slower, melodic chorus.
What makes “Aphotic” so hard to wrap your head around, though, is the many different tempos, speeds and atmospheres that come together, sometimes within a song, sometimes between songs, and at times it can make it difficult to keep the album cohesive, since “What Could Have Been” suddenly delivers pure acoustic guitar and a little of violin over calm, clean vocals by Paul and guest vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen (former THE GATHERING) and it is very reflective, almost seeming like it doesn’t belong on the album... The “Of Age And Origin” duo shows the two different sides of NOVEMBERS DOOM, the first intense and closer to their last album, the second calmer, slower, highly melodic and completely cleanly sung, while at the end “Shadow Play” starts out calm, but then continuously adds intensity and heaviness, showing the quality of penmanship these Americans united amongst their ranks.
Another quality output by the Chicagoans, but I can’t help but feel a little lost sometimes, might be the increased complexity or the kind of out-of-place “What Could Have Been”, but as a fan of the band you will not make a mistake by picking this up, not least thanks to the once more exceptional performance by Paul (vocally and lyrically), without trying to let him outshine the rest of the band, of course!
(Online February 11, 2012)