Sound — 9
Dark metal outfit Novembers Doom, hailing from Chicago, are veterans of their game with 28 years of music making and 10 album releases behind them. It is pretty remarkable then, that this is the first record in the bands catalogue which features the same lineup as the one before it, 2014's "Bled White." This album, "Hamartia" lends its title from the Greek work meaning the weakness that eventually leads to the demise of a protagonist. The weakness, according to Novembers Doom, is our ability to love. This concept is also well captured by the albums cover art, made by Eugen Poe. But I'm getting ahead of myself, because there's only one place one can begin talking about this record, and that's with the production and the sound. Chris Djuricic and Dan Swanö have successfully managed to produce a sound which has great clarity without sacrificing any of the beefiness. Especially the distorted guitar tones are as excellent as anything else Swanö has worked on, which, if you know your metal producers, makes for a quite massive list including names like Katatonia, Opeth, Ghost and Bloodbath just to name a few. The sound is crisp, heavy and huge when it needs to be and compared to the back catalogue I have to say Novembers Doom sound better than ever production-wise. The bass is not always very distinct in the mix, but it compensates for this by being brought out when it does something more than following the guitar.
Performance-wise there's nothing on this album that doesn't feel well played. I'm especially impressed by the drum work of Garry Naples, which gives the record a ton of energy. The guitarists (Larry Roberts and Vito Marchese) have their greatest strength in their use of harmonies and they accentuate the heavy rhythms of the drums as needed. The bass (Mike Feldman) is not always as audible as I would like, but when it is at its most audible during the albums less intense moments it shines. In short I would say that the performances on this album are not remarkably technical, but competent and serving of the music. Not throwing in excessive solos and needless showoff moves for their own sake gives the record a sense of maturity worthy of a band who has been going as long as Novembers Doom. This brings me to the songwriting. Though not their absolute best work to date (which I maintain is "The Novella Reservoir"), this is definitely one of the strongest offerings of the catalogue so far and a step up from their previous album. There are really not a lot of surprises for anyone who has heard a Novembers Doom record before. It sticks with an established, working formula which will be recognized and appreciated by fans, but within that formula the band is still trying to push itself further.
Lyrics — 8
Moving on to the vocals Paul Kuhr still has what I concider to be one of the best growls in the metal scene, reminiscent of Johan Hegg of Amon Amarth (or as Kuhr has joked when someone pointed this out "Ahem, Johan sounds like me"). However Kuhr, unlike Hegg, also uses clean vocals and has a beautiful baritone voice which contrasts the harshness of his massive growls. The fragile vocals of "Borderline" are as excellent as the deep growls in "Zephyr". If I was trying to find something to complain about I would say that Kuhr has moments when he tries to push too many lyrics into the same space, making for some awkward rhythms here and there. Luckily these are exceptions and not the norm. Kuhr also has backing vocal help most notably from his daughter Rhiannon Kuhr. Though not a game changer, it adds a welcome layer to tracks like "Zephyr" and "Ever After".
As far as lyrics go they really fit into the concept of Hamartia and the album cover. The metaphor used for love is the plague, and the lyrics speak of regret, nightmares, despair, fear of loneliness, feelings of rejection and hate in the face of unfairness. At the very end of the record the lyrics however take a turn: "Holding hands, knuckles white/Never greater to feel so alive/Moving on and side by side/Together a new day begins/Guided by the morning light/Illuminated through the distant dark/Moving fast and forging on/A great distance, effortlessly". It appears the protagonist of the record finally finds resolve and comfort to escape the swamp of misery, and perhaps more interestingly the ability to love that was his downfall also guides him out of it.
Overall Impression — 8
Before going to a final verdict, there's just one thing left to concider. On paper this album has got everything fans should want from a Novembers Doom record. The songwriting makes sense, the performances are great and the production could well be the best metal production I've heard all year. I even like the more peripheral aspects like the concept of Hamartia and the cover art. It ticks all the boxes, so why then isn't this the best Novembers Doom record ever made? I think it comes down to those special, memorable moments that stick to peoples heads. Let me digress for a moment and draw a comparison most people can relate to. In the back catalogue of Iron Maiden, "Piece of Mind" is arguably the most consistent record the band ever put out with not a single song being boring or badly written. Still, "The Number of the Beast" contains most of the fan favourites, and despite a few songs ("Invaders" and "Gangland," especially) being boring and forgettable it remains the more well known, relevant and talked about record to this day.
Well, "Hamartia" is Novembers Doom's "Piece of Mind." The album as a whole might be the most consistent and well made in the band's discography to date - which is not to be played down -, but even so it is outshined by at least a couple of the bands previous records simply because the most memorable tracks the band has ever made are on them. I also think that Novembers Doom stick to their comfort zone with this album, which for better or worse makes the album more predictable than it needs to be. Still, I feel confident saying that fans will not have any cause for disappointment with tracks like "Plague Bird", "Ghost", "Zephyr" and "Borderline", where especially the last track comes highly recommended. If you are listening to Novembers Doom for the very first time however, the intro of "Into Nights Requiem Infernal" or Novellas closing track "Leaving This" remains the best places to start.