NOVEMBERS DOOM – Nephilim Grove
Born Laceration, founded by vocalist Paul Kuhr in 1989, the Chicagoan ensemble continued until 1992 when they changed the name to Novembers Doom. "Her Tears Drop" demo (1995) was followed by the debut full length, "Amids Its Hallowed Mirth" that same year (reissued remastered by The End Records, in 2008), but long-standing Chicagoans, such as myself, did not discover them until the seminal, fabulous sophomore album, "Of Sculptured Ivy And Stone Flowers" (1999), (also reissued remastered by The End Records, in 2008) with the superb opener "With Rue And Fire". Novembers Doom has always worn their My Dying Bride-ian influence on their sleeves loud and proud, later supplemented with Opeth, as the latter gained in recognition. "The Knowing" (2000) solidified their position while showing incredible maturity and attention to detail but I personally lost track of them (due to my temporary religion-inspired fall-out from all things metal, thus completely missing on the 2002’s "To Welcome The Fade") until the seminal fantastic "The Pale Haunt Departure" (2005), an album, by Paul’s own admission, which proved a tough act to follow, even on the excellent, if more, stripped down, "The Novella Reservoir" (2007).
Whether "The Novella Reservoir" was a step down or maitained the established standard, "Into Night’s Requiem Infernal" (2009), by many, including Kuhr himself, regarded as Novembers Doom’s magnum opus, left no doubt, as the progressive doom/death-sters now rivaled My Dying Bride’s brilliant "The Angel And The Dark River". Indeed, being both an American and a Chicagoan has never felt prouder, and the following "Aphotic" (2011), which subtly introduced black metal influence, only served to increase that feeling. "Bled White" (2014) and, especially, "Hamartia" (2016) were both excellent releases in their own right, but Novembers Doom seemed to be gradually drifting toward the lighter side of My Dying Bride and even Katatonia. Especially the latter album created a void for more extremity and darkness in a band progressively doomish while less and less deathly as Paul Kuhr (vocals), Larry Roberts (guitars, vocals), Vito Marchese (guitars), Mike Feldman (bass) and Garry Naples (drums) were pressured to really deliver on this new, released a month ago, 9-track album. It is precisely due to that expectation that "Nephilim Grove" is so crushingly devastating, in no small part to Dan Erland Swanö’s (Edge Of Sanity, Witherscape) Earth-shaking mix, on one hand, and the very sinister lyricism, on the other.
Paul Kuhr’s lyrics have always been controversial on subjects such as faith and religion, and just like" Into Night’s Requiem Infernal" (INRI) was a play on a Christian acronym of "IESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDAEORVM" (Jesus Of Nazareth The King Of The Jews), the inscription written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek and above the cross of crucified Christ by Poncius Pilate, according to John 19:19, "Nephilim Grove" concerns the race of humanoidemons, the Nephilim, genetically created by the angelic Order Of Mastemoth, according to Genesis 6:2-4 in the Bible and The Dead Sea Scrolls. This race was so thoroughly and completely depraved that it precipitated the necessity of the Flood just to save the human race, while God confined the Mastemoth to Tartarus, according to 2 Peter 2:4. In "The Witness Marks" Kuhr proposes, reflective of the Luciferian philosophy and John Milton’s "Paradise Lost" that God blamed the Devil for sin and evil God caused, so far probably the strongest Novembers Doom stand on the subject of faith, frankly bordering on Satanism. In this, though, Kuhr echoes Opeth’s Lars Mikael Åkerfeldt who always played fast and loose with God and the Devil and their respective responsibility for the Universe. Thus this is possibly Novembers Doom’s darkest offering to date, suffused by Kuhr’s phenomenal, now angelic now demonic, vocal performance.
When a demon, Paul Kuhr unites Ross Dolan (Immolation), Lars Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) and Aaron Stainthorpe (My Dying Bride), with angelic croons of the aforementioned Åkerfeldt and Stainthorpe aided by Jonas Petter Renkse (Katatonia) hugging Peter "O’Steele" Ratajczyk’s (Type O’Negative). Yet while there’s a lot of straight up singing on this album Kuhr never abuses his powers to scorn his deathly beast within. In fact, the lyrical and vocal approach, being supremely and truly dark, is reflected by heavy and at times horrifyingly bleak music.
Indeed, even the more melodic and, shall we say, gothic, tracks such as the My Dying Bride-ian, yet a’la ND’s own "Empathy’s Greed", "What We Become" exude this thick oppressive darkness. You thought "Heartfelt" (off of "Bled White") was frightening, try "Black Light", one of the most purely death metal tracks since "Lazarus Regret", with the opening riff similar to Katatonia’s "Day And Then The Shade". If the titular "INRI" downright quoting motiff of the opening "Petrichor" do not convince you the following "The Witness Marks", and, especially the near-perfect progressive "Incommunicado" Marillion-ic title track, will. The overwhelming emphasis is on DOOM this time, instead of on November, and, if you never liked Opeth in their stylings, chances are you’ll find the unapologetically Opeth-ian madness of The Clearing Blind" extremely unnerving, although it is not that far removed from the likes of their "I Hurt Those I Adore". Besides, even if you hate Opeth, you can’t deny the progressive guitar mastery on this particular track. While the death metal influences a’la Immolation’s "Kingdom Of Conspiracy" in both guitar tone and vocal growlings hardly surprise, the Nevermore of "Bittersweet Feast" in "Still Wrath" and the opening riff of "The Witness Marks" echoying "This Godless Endeavor" are a little unexpected, until you remember they were using similar tuning as far back as "The Novella Reservoir". Overall, then, melody and heaviness are mostly balanced for good measure, and did I mention this stuff was dark?
Why then 4.5/6 asked the plebs of the reviewer king? Well, as great as these songs are, even though Garry’s drum thunderous rolls (The Witness Marks!) will pound you into oblivion, as deafeningly loud and heavy while sweetly harmonious Marchese/Roberts guitar duo is, and as satisfying and fresh the material sounds, some of the songs sound like they could either use a lift or a shorter play time. Accordingly, I would love to love the Dark Tranquillity-ian "Adagio" and "The Obelus" or the surprisingly Phil Hansen Anselmo (ex-Pantera) vocalized opener "Petrichor", but I only like them very much, instead. The direction is so right, but in my view, the execution seems only partially executed, as if they hesitated and decided against going full on, at the last minute.
"Nephilim Grove" is a great album from a band who needs no introduction but needed serious regrouping to stay relevant on the scene. They are on their way to a full swing and the next couple of albums should prove these guys have what it takes to be the best of the best. If you like albums such as Opeth’s "Still Life", Katatonia’s "Night Is The New Day", My Dying Bride’s "For Lies I Sire", Nevermore’s "This Godless Endeavor" or Immolation’s "Kingdom Of Conspiracy" you know what to do.