Sound — 7
Doom Metal innovators November's Doom has returned once again with their latest effort Aphotic, bringing an almost progressive feel (but not quite) to their death/doom style. While the album does not go so far out of their way as to call it a huge step towards a new style, it definitely opens up discussion for what the future of the band holds. The progression is there, however. Not in the musical structure, but in the form of their continued contributions to the genre of metal, and in particular the sub-genre they've been rocking since 1989. Aphotic starts out strong with one of the best songs on the album, 'The Dark Host' which encompasses the bands continued style throughout the rest of the album. Speed, down-tempo, clean vocals and blast beats grace you through the song, up until it's distortion-soaked outro. This song gets you prepared for an interesting journey - but before you get too excited, this isn't exactly a journey you won't forget. The structure of the album as a whole, is fantastic. November's Doom gradually transitions from heavy to soft to heavy to soft seamlessly without being overly abrupt or repetitive. In fact, with the songs 'What Could Have Been" and 'Shadow's Play', I almost wish they would explore more of this style. Why? Because unfortunately for Aphotic, the song's don't do much justice to the amazing sounds this band captures. Vocalist Paul Kuhr writes stories. His lyrics (of which I will discuss later) are meant to tell tales - morbid and scary tales. Despite the music's direction going with that of the lyrics, the predictable song structure doesn't seem to keep you guessing. This may or may not be a good thing to you, but to me they didn't quite back up the stories that Paul was telling. After the third verse on 'Harvest Sythe' I was just about ready to move on to the next song. This isn't to take away from Novembers Doom and their great style. The riffs and interludes they wrote are quite good. In actuality, most are pretty awesome; blending the old doom with the new death. Guitarists Larry Roberts and Vito Marchese deliver crushing riffs, along with some beautiful (yet not fantastic) acoustic work. Drummer Sasha Horn is not to be overlooked either, as his drum work is very creative, and breaths a lot of life into riffs that may have otherwise been just decent. His ability to switch to a softer side like on the song 'Shadows Play' shows his versatility as a drummer, and why he has done well fitting into Novembers Doom. The mixing and mastering was handled by multi-musician and legendary Audio/Mastering Engineer Dan Swano at Unisound studios in Orebro, Sweden. That being said, Aphotic sounds great. The beauty of having a good budget for your music is not only the stellar recording quality, but to get pro's like Dan Swano to mix and master, and make the album that much more solid. Swano does just this with Aphotic allowing the guitars to be up in your face, the drums and bass to bring in the rhythm, and Pauls vocals to soar above them all without getting in the way.
Lyrics — 6
As I stated earlier, Paul Kuhr tells stories. Though his stories are a bit in-cohesive and they all seem to happen inside an entirely other universe than the last, they are decent stories... told poorly. Unfortunately for Paul, where he excels vocally, he lacks as writer. His stories, written with all intents and purposes to be creepy and intricate, don't seem to add up. "Prison walls contain my laugh - Knowing you can't keep me down - I will escape your pathetic trap - Greeted by the grand applause" is just one example of Pauls inability to hold my attention as a writer. Paul is not by any means bad at what he does, and his delivery is excellent... but sometimes the lyrics fall into the same boat as the repetitive music - them both being one in the same. This is important for you to hear - Paul Kuhr's growls are distinguishably diverse, brutal, and impressive, while his clean vocals transition smoothly and bring a powerful feel to the music. All lyrics aside, Paul is a fantastic vocalist and deserves all the praise in the world for bringing forth an impressive bit of Death/Doom Metal in his voice. Anneke Van Giersbergen makes a guest appearance on the acoustic song 'What Could Have Been' offering her delicate voice to counteract the strong presence of Paul's. They work beautifully together, and helped to create probably the most memorable song on the album. Just as soon as Anneke made a guest vocals appearance, so does mixing/mastering engineer Dan Swano, bringing forth his brutal and legendary growls as an added effect in the song 'Age of Origin Part 1 : A Day of Violence'. As always, Swano delivers what he sought out to, and blends both his and Paul's distinctive voices together to create a great dramatic effect.
Overall Impression — 8
Judging by the lower grades above, you wouldn't expect the overall impression to be higher, but for some reason this album sticks with me. While not too many - if not no moments jump out as absolute brilliance I find myself going back to listen to this album. There is a melancholic feel to it all that draws me to it, and I have yet to be disappointed. Sure the album isn't record breaking or style altering, and sure the lyrics are FAR from revolutionary, but the album doesn't do anything wrong. It sounds good. The songs are good listening, and the vocals are just impressive. This album seems to me like a bridge to a more progressive style in Novembers Doom, so be prepared two years from now, Fans, there could be a style switch - Aphotic is their warning. Whom this is for - Fans of Death/Doom, Fans of Progressive Metalcore, Anyone looking for a good sounding album. Whom this is NOT for - Anyone who hate's attempts at Prog, People who are discouraged by clean vocals, anyone who doesn't want to be embarrassed by Pauls...mediocre lyrics.