For reasons I cannot fully understand, Novembre has always been compared to Opeth and it's been said that they were heavily influenced by them. While it is a given that there are certain similarities between the two bands, as both both acts recorded their debut in 1994 in Dan Swano's Unisound Studio and both liked the idea of alternating between heavy, extreme sounds to slower, clean moments, Novembre's new album Materia should settle any argument that they have always been a unique band in their own right and they have established themselves as a distinct group.
Materia is in many ways the most realized Novembre work. Although it isn't as heavy as, say, Classica; or as complex as Novembrine Waltz, it is excellently composed in the way that the tracks are constructed where every part of the song comes together and plays off each other. There are many contrasting elements in their songs that interact with each other in ways Opeth have never done before. Harmonically, this is one of the most intricate Novembre albums ever, combining their penchant for trance-inducing melancholia and progressive songwriting. Though this one is considerably less heavy than their previous releases, it still transpires a lot atmosphere as it carries a dense and relentlessly dark allure that evokes feelings similar to Katatonia's The Great Cold Distance. Actually, I firmly believe that Materia and The Great Cold Distance are two of the best releases of the year so far and, in ways I fail to describe, complement each other beautifully. Maybe it's the production, the introspective lyrical themes, the somewhat prevalant Tool references (mostly in the vocal department), or simply the fact that both bands have surprised their fans greatly exceeding their expectations.
On Materia, the mellow moments clearly outnumber the heavy ones, as Carmelo Orlando makes less use of his distinctive growls and black-ish screams. The music presents a more acoustic-driven approach with heavier guitar riffs contrasting them, and Carmelo emphasizes his diverse vocal skills, which sometimes evoke Tool due to the heavily processed vocal overdubs. Vocal-wise, this could be his most diverse work to date. He goes from melancholic low registers on "Verne", featuring wonderful acoustic guitars, searing electric leads, and thick drum fills; to downright melodious singing on "Aquamarine" which he finishes with snarly, vicious screams backed by killer harmonies. A similar approach is executed on "Jules", beginning with incessant kick drums and electronia-tinged atmospherics, as Italian lyrics with gripping vocal harmonies are delivered. The second half of the piece is capped by intricate transitions and melodic guitar passages. The two songs that highlight Carmelo's vocal skills best are "Geppeto", whose Garden Wall circa Path of Dreams-like classical intro is simply breathtaking. The bass playing on this song, while subtle, is marked by some of the most atypical chord progressions you'll hear, underlying Carmelo's best vocal melody to date before he opts for spoken vocals, whispers, and humming. The part where he sings, "Quel giorno il mare era un quadro di colori scuri, disse 'Guarda un po chi c'è! Mi sei mancato compare!'" (which would translate like: "That day the sea was a picture of dark colours, he said 'just look at that! I missed you friend!'") is quite possibly his most emotive vocal melody in his career. This swiftly segues into a fantastic guitar solo that climaxes with cascading riffs sending shivers down the spine. Without doubt, this is one of the best Novembre songs ever. The other one, "Croma", also puts the band's "Italian-style" songwriting on display, except that this one is blessed with a lot more shifts and transitions. Carmelo's vocals are utterly moving, especially when he sings the chorus that goes, "I just wanna be someone that makes you believe you are not breaking away."
The merciless start of "Comedia" is also the heaviest moment on the album, introducing death metal-like blastbeats before they combine melodic facade with instrumental precision, shifting in subtle movements of tones that include a Floydian guitar run and groovy drumming. Actually the drum and bass battery on "Memoria Stoica/ Vetro" ("Stoic Memory Glass") is among the most powerful rhythm parts on the album, as they seem to work perfectly in the constantly-changing soundscape. It's a song with piano, acoustic guitars, heavy drum and bass rhythms, and tranquil passages with Italian lyrics. I'm also reminded of several bands, much as I was with the Katatonia similarity, but these are moreso thoughts that pop in my head rather than direct musical references. For example, in terms of its structuring, "Reason" recalls maudlin of the Well's complex, layered songs, and the fretless bass sounds killer too; while the last song "Nothijngrad", featuring Carmelo's emphasized Italian accented deep growls, brings to mind Orphaned Land's Mabool. Again, the ending of this track is masterful, with the following repeated lines: "Pride and might, we believe in Nothijngrad" - actually before the band decided to name their new disc Materia, they wanted to go with Nothijngrad Post, but changed their minds later. I'm glad they did, as Materia sounds like a more powerful word and is easier to remember.
One last mention goes to "The Promise", Novembre's perfect cover of Duran Duran. The most electronic piece, it begins with a knife-like lead riff that sounds awesome, and picks up some slightly blues-ridden guitar notes and an infectious main melody. The percussion and backing harmonies are among the best on the album, and what's better is that the piece fits the flow of Materia perfectly as well.
Travis Smith's artwork is first class and it sort of reminds me of a hybrid of his work on Devin Townsend's Terria and Radiohead's OK Computer. Also of note is that the boy on the cover is actually the brother of the girl on Katatonia's Viva Emptiness, also done by Travis Smith.
- Memoria Stoica/Vetro