NOVEMBERS DOOM just might have become America's official answer to ENSLAVED and OPETH, in a subtle way, of course. Having fostered their reputation in Europe, it's no surprise the Chicago-based death metallers could pass for a Euro or Scandinavian act. Now carrying more than twenty years under their belts as a band, NOVEMBERS DOOM follows up their script-changing 2011 release "Aphotic" with a much bigger statement.
"Bled White" establishes a happy medium to NOVEMBERS DOOM's propensity for tinkering, if happy is seldom the representative vibe of the album. While death and doom modes oblige "Bled White"'s bitter themes, the songs work their way toward a begrudging catharsis and occasional release. As ever, NOVEMBERS DOOM's sophistication is their biggest asset, since their refusal to work efficiently demands greater investment from the listener. Fortunately, the winding length of "Bled White" is filled with calculated and refined progression so not a single minute feels wasted.
"Heartfelt" and "Animus" are positioned far apart from each other on the album, but their brute capabilities and mincing between harsh and clean tones almost feel like distant-plotted call and response to one another. "Bled White" thus takes an audacious ride between these songs where spite, rejection and pain are confronted and partially purged.
"Just Breathe" might be the head-turner of the album for many listeners as Paul Kuhr and NOVEMBERS DOOM play the KATATONIA card and exhibit one of the album's most emotive milieus. Kuhr dispels all hard tones from his delivery here, staying in wallowing clean mode as singular guitar lines drop about him like rivulets. The choruses erupt with morose static, at one point accenting the song's dejection with sorrowful piano rolls. No matter how tempting the louder portions of "Just Breathe" may be for Kuhr to scream bloody murder over, he has enough respect for the songwriting to keep himself in check. Larry Roberts and Vito Marchese inherit the spotlight when Kuhr relinquishes it to them and ultimately disappears into their ether at song's end.
The luxuriant acoustic instrumental "Scorpius" has its place on just about any metal record, but in the midst of "Bled White"'s allegorical loathing, its soothing respite, however brief, acts as a hopeful conscience. It marks a spot of reckoning on the album as "Unrest" chugs forth with cascading riffs, double hammer-guided glides and Paul Kuhr's tradeoffs between pissy woofs and clean monotones. Lyrically dealing with grief and separation, when Kuhr chants "I only hope you found the peace you were searching for, I pray your smile is now pure", the directional shift seems aimed as much toward his own relief as that of his muse's.
"The Memory Room" changes atmosphere just enough to take a moody ALICE IN CHAINS primer and heavy it up a few clicks. Once more, Paul Kuhr opts to sing more instead of bark (though gruff portions do make themselves known), and the melodic chorus of "The Memory Room" is one of the gutsiest maneuvers of the album. As the song confronts past turmoil, the listener can hear NOVEMBERS DOOM pulling themselves out of the ruts with a song that comes off as a representative healing stone.
"The Brave Pawn" wisely picks up the pace in order to keep "Bled White" from sinking into stagnancy. Heavier from all stations than most of the output preceding it, "The Brave Pawn"'s placement is another shrewd move on the band's part, as is the option to keep it just under four minutes. Once this song spikes from fast to a charred grind, NOVEMBERS DOOM's listeners will be well-stoked to ride out the remainder of the album.
"Clear" continues "Bled White"'s omnipresent vent session against a love scorned, but the lighter tones, the tiding guitars and bass and the tapping drum pats give Paul Kuhr's cleans extra loft. In response, the open air composition of the song feels like clarity, to the point the guitar solos delight instead of swelter. Even when "The Grand Circle" stubbornly seeks to retreat into an abyss of hatred, NOVEMBERS DOOM engineers uplifting tones to the choruses, capitalizing on Paul Kuhr's adamant clean drones. His switch to growls on "The Grand Circle" are, strangely enough, made more palatable accordingly.
As "Animus" and "The Silent Dark" slip back into the meditative anger "Bled White" was reared with, at least NOVEMERS DOOM spools harmonious reflection, more so in the latter song's case, which carries on for nearly ten minutes. While there's a lack of resolution or reprieve from the prevailing torment badgering the muse on "Bled White" for an hour, eight minutes, the wherewithal to offer melody to this self-chastising affair gives the listener something to hold onto all the way through.
Once more, NOVEMBERS DOOM concocts a haunting, sometimes beautiful album with more thought laid out into their songwriting than your average death metal act. They've strived for evolution over the years, but "Bled White" is transcendental.