November 1, 2019 Novembers Doom – Nephilim Grove (Album Review)
Chicago death dealers Novembers Doom are back with their latest album, Nephilim Grove, released on Friday November 1st through Prophecy Productions.
Established 30 years ago, and led from the beginning by Vocalist Paul Kuhr, the band has released a steady catalog within the American Death/Doom genre it pioneered in the late ’80s. Slowed not even by a cavalcade of lineup changes, most notably the departure of founding Co-Vocalist Cathy Jo Hejna after two albums, the band has sustained stability with Guitarist/Vocalist Larry Roberts, Guitarist Vito Marchese, Bassist Mike Feldman, and Drummer Garry Naples joining Kuhr.
Spending over a decade with The End Records, Nephilim Grove marks the band’s first album with Prophecy Productions and was mixed/mastered by the legendary Dan Swanö – who has handled every release since 2005’s The Pale Haunt Departure. Eleven songs in total, the distinct dueling vocals of Kuhr and Roberts is apparent from the beginning, with a slow clear monotone used mostly for choruses (literally, as these are often overdubbed). This voice comes in different strains: usually at a lower timbre, delivering some verses (almost in the vein of Geoff Tate, late of Queensrÿche), before reaching higher pitches, with the style of an invocation from and unearthly priest – the chorus of “The Witness Marks” is a strong example of this latter effect. Contrasted often is a more traditional growly Death Metal voice that opens tracks like “The Witness Marks” and “Black Light,” usually peppered with the robotic voice as needed.
Within the mix, the drumming almost sound a little tinny; the actual playing sounds as skillful as one would expect from the band at this point, but somewhere the filtering has the result sound distressed and distant. “The Witness Marks” has an almost nu-metal tone at the outset, and the oddly tight drums are not doing any favors. While Death Metal vocals pervade this track, the monotonous choral voice takes over a bit, and the total effect has a progression that ends up firmly in the Death/Doom wheelhouse the band forged from whole cloth. The track ends with the dual-sided warning, “Death is coming for us/ you will never find us.”
The quieter portions of Nephilim Grove harken back to the band’s early beginnings, as both the stand-alone vocals and the resulting guitar solos take listeners back to the late ’80s and early ’90s, when wide swaths of America and England were embarking on parallel tracks within the Death/Doom genre. While the results differ, they are equally impressive, and Novembers Doom still manages to sound fresh and invigorated without repeating themselves.
As with the drumming, the clean singing almost sounds limited by its style; it is clear the pipes behind the monotony have strong chops, and any minor inflection or imperfection would likely sound better than the restriction of keeping the slow, steady tone. This seems par for the course, however, and longtime fans will no doubt find some sanctuary in the familiar sound being applied to new areas, with the strong hand of Swanö keeping the band relevant in the landscape. “Adiago” is equally fresh and pertinent, while “Black Light” has a nice guitar progression just before the four-minute mark. Chilling guitar effects carry the end of “The Clearing Blind” to fruition. Lastly, the album closes with “The Obelus,” a track that is faster than a Doom band might normally wrap thing up.
Overall, Novembers Doom have dedicated three decades to clearing a path within the Death/Doom genre, and Nephilim Grove is another distinct stone set along that route.That is why Cryptic Rock is pleased to give this album 3.5 out of 5 stars.