Novembre! Where the bloody hell have you been?
9 years on from The Blue, Italy’s finest progressive death/doom merchants have finally returned with Ursa (album number 8) and its gothic splendour is an immediate attention-grabber and an ample reminder that only Opeth can match Novembre at this game.
So what’s changed in nearly a decade? Not too much. Carmelo Orlando’s death growls may have been further sidelined in favour of his clean delivery but he equips himself well, his ethereal tones adding muted layers to the free-flowing songs that drift like the sounds of the ocean that precede opener, and album highlight, “Australis”. Unpredictably shifting from calm and peaceful to churning and heaving with the full force of nature’s power, there’s an undeniable and absurdly effective earthly quality to each and every track on Ursa, a connection to our surroundings that informs what is almost a meditative experience.
Anathema, Opeth at their peak (think Still Life through to Ghost Reveries) and Green Carnation are all touchstones but then Novembre would see these progressively minded trailblazers as peers, not aspirational figures. In fact, Novembre can now claim to have this kind of epic progressive death metal sewn up. Opeth may have ditched the growls but Novembre still embrace them, using them more modestly perhaps but with great impact – the relative serenity of “The Rose” is broken by forceful and formidable gargled vocals – and this refusal to turn their backs on their roots is a welcome one.
With traces of latter-day Cynic – particularly during the expansive prog-jazz of “Oceans Of Afternoon” – colliding with the heavier “Bremen” – a prog death epic with added pace and a nastier edge – Ursa may have been long in gestation but it was well worth the wait. 8/10