Album review: Novembers Doom’s ‘Hamartia’

Hamartia

Hamartia

Artist: Novembers Doom

Album: Hamartia

Genre: Death-doom

Rating: 4/5

Links: Facebook, Twitter, website, record label

One of death-doom’s earliest acts, Novembers Doom has been faithful to a niche subgenre that has long since lost most of its innovators.

Novembers Doom never gets the credit it deserves for that, but stylistic consistency aside, the Chicago quintet is also one of America’s best metal acts in general. The band has been pumping out quality music for over two decades, and several of the group’s recent records are among their best.

“Hamartia,” the band’s tenth record, is certainly worthy of such praise. This is great death metal, oft-brilliant doom metal and a deeply repeatable addition to the band’s storied discography. But on first listen, that might not be immediately apparent.

Novembers Doom’s latest is a grower, and its duller material is pushed towards the beginning of the record. That’s a bit of a letdown, because aside from a few outliers, nearly every moment ranges from above average to outright fantastic and most pieces are uniquely likable and packed of subtle nuances that are only fully appreciated on consecutive listens. Stick with it, because “Hamartia” is easily one of the best death-doom records in recent memory.

It certainly starts off on a phenomenally explosive note. Massive in both scope and sound, “Devils Light” and “Plague Bird” are fantastic examples of Novembers Doom near-mastery of the genre. The former’s rolling guitar riffs, genuinely cinematic leads and frontman Paul Khur’s throaty growls would make for an apt straight death metal song, but the atmosphere, harmony and relatively restrained speed provided by the doom metal half make it all the better. It’s a haunting monolith and kicks off the record with vicious aplomb.

While “Plague Bird” doesn’t quite reach the startlingly high bar set by the record’s opener—don’t fret, plenty of time for that later—it proves that Novembers Doom can create excellent melody as well as menace. It’s a contrasting piece, dominated by singing and slower riffs, but when heaviness is interjected, most notably via some impeccable growling that follows a handful of the clean vocal passages, it serves as a remarkable supplement.

“Ghost” and “Ever After” follow, and are a rather unfortunate comedown from “Hamartia’s” preceding two tracks. They’re by far the weakest tracks here, full of middling riffs and lax vocals with nary an aggressive bite nor emotional impact. A fair chunk of the record’s runtime is given to these songs and they, along with a slightly better but still overlong quasi-interlude title track, threaten to kill the album’s momentum before its best material even gets a chance to shine.

Yes, that’s all fairly discouraging, but those songs only stand out so negatively because elsewhere, “Hamartia” does nearly everything else astonishingly well.

“Apostasy” and “Miasma” bring focused intensity back to the forefront and offer the record’s best vocal performances. The former’s ebb and flow between snarling brutality and clean—albeit suitably forbidding—clean sections makes for the quintessential death-doom lick, while Khur’s frantic singing on the latter track is among the finest work of his career.

Those are the most obvious highlights, but “Hamartia’s” second half is crammed with similarly top-shelf work. Even its lengthiest pieces, including the towering nine-minute finale, are tightly written and feature either enough variety to keep things interesting, and both death and doom elements are given ample room to breathe, neither ever sounding like an afterthought. This goes on for 30-something minutes and more than make up for the record’s comparably inconsistent opening half.

“Hamartia” isn’t perfect, but it does so many things right that it is certain to rightfully appeal to a broad spectrum of metal fans. There’s never been a better time to jump in.

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