Novembers Doom – Hamartia

25 years into their career, it’s kind of a miracle that Novembers Doom is still around and making good music. One of the earlier adopters of the death-doom style back in 1992, they put out their first album, Amid Its Hallowed Mirth, in 1995, and have reliably churned out an album every few years since. That kind of dedication to craft – that steadfast adherence to being a band – is rare in music in general, but it’s really, really rare in metal. Sure, we have bands like Candlemass or Metallica that have been around for a while and keep cranking stuff out at a relatively fast clip, but this just isn’t something that happens often at the mid-level of popularity Novembers Doom occupies. Sure, there’s been member changes and shifts in the band aplenty, with the exception of vocalist Paul Kuhr, but that almost adds to the sort of nigh-mythical reliability of this band: amidst a constant fluctuation of members, these guys have always put out reliably decent death-doom albums that have been, at most, four years apart.

Hamartia comes late into this consistent career, and it definitely sounds like it. There’s no real change from any of Novembers Doom’s previous works here – save for maybe a more refined level of production that gives the whole affair a certain slickness and level of polish – but they’ve continued doing what they do to a high degree of quality, and this record sits pretty comfortably in their discography for it. Immediately, opener “Devil’s Light” hits you with grim chords and an unsuspectingly catchy melody. The song moves into the band’s standard playbook: a grooving sort of death-doom riff drives the song at a fair clip, very Opeth-y harsh vocals punctuate the instrumental assault, and everything then opens up into a large chorus that fills out the band’s sound with synthesizers. There’s very little of the typical rigidity that’s found in something this formulaic, which speaks to the band’s strengths. Novembers Doom has always been at their best when they’re working within an established set of rules for constructing their songs, and Hamartia is no different.

Paul Kuhr’s excellent clean vocal work is, as always, one of the album’s most prominent and alluring features. To say the band would have gotten nowhere without him is a misnomer, of course – the instrumentation holds its own quite well – but Kuhr’s somber, funereal timbre is perfect for the mood Novembers Doom creates. His confidence in applying his talents liberally across tracks help make the band’s personality stand out so much against others within the death-doom genre; the characterization of Novembers Doom – and Hamartia by extension – is so inextricably linked with his sound, and his sound is so good, that there’s not really a lot to say about the instrumentation. Everything feels like a vessel for Kuhr’s voice, and that’s a stylistic decision that pays off in spades for the band.

“Hamartia,” in the Greek, means a fatal flaw of a character – a personality trait that becomes an Achilles’ heel. There’s really no such thing to be found here: Novembers Doom has once again released an album that lives up to the high standard they’ve set for themselves in the past. Although Hamartia certainly isn’t their most original release, and those who have listened to the band previously know exactly what they’re going to get, it’s executed well enough that it doesn’t really matter a whole lot. To those who are already fans: you will enjoy this record. To those who have listened before, and decided this band isn’t for them: don’t even bother. To those who haven’t listened to Novembers Doom before: Hamartia is as good a place to start as any. 

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Hamartia was released on April 14th through The End Records. Grab it here, if you’re so inclined.

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