Have you ever been listening to a song on the radio thinking “hmm, this isn’t too bad, but you know, it would be better if the drummer suddenly let rip with a double kick drum frenzy”? Or perhaps you’ve thought “this song is OK, but it would be really cool if the guitarist really kicked his guitar into overdrive here”? Well, chances are, listening to the radio, neither of these things are ever going to happen, but listen to ‘Materia’ by Novembre and that’s exactly what you’ll get.
Thankfully, the album title has nothing to do with a Final Fantasy video game obsession. Italian outfit Novembre started as an off-centre death metal band, throwing in acoustic passages and clean vocals to create moods and atmospheres in an era where such things were gimmick rather than commonplace. Over five albums, the band’s sound has evolved to a point where it is not death metal by any stretch of the imagination, but more an amalgam of modern rock, moody melodies and metal highlighting. Imagine if bands like Tool or Audioslave or Nickelback actually knew what metal was, and occasionally used metal-sounding guitars, or had drummers who could genuinely kick out the jams.
The advantage of playing mostly rock, while coming from a metal background, means that Novembre still know how to let rip and carve up a song when they need to. Listening to the album, the first few tracks pass by, doing more than enough to keep the listener interested, but occasionally there seems to be something missing. That’s where the old metal skills come in. The vocals are clean, clear and plaintive, which can become a little one-dimensional at times, and you wish the vocalist would just cough up a wad of phlegm and let rip with a gravelly death grunt, and fuck me sideways, on the fourth track “Aquamarine” he does! A bit further on through the album, you find yourself wondering “hey, do ya reckon these guys can still play fast”? And then the introduction to “Comedia” blasts through the speakers, a high tempo, full on death metal blast.
If you’re looking for an album of Cryptopsy-esque techno-death, or slabs of straight forward Obituary-style death metal, you’re looking in the wrong place here. This is an album of subtleties, but without the all too common descent into Gothic fuckwittery. Often, the only clue to this not being above-average radio rock is a too-heavy guitar, or drums being played too aggressively. Still, Novembre keep it reasonably simple, relying on little outside the guitar/drums/bass/vocal staple. “Geppetto” is sung in the band’s native Italian, something which many bands from non-English speaking backgrounds don’t do enough of. Perhaps a criticism which could be levelled at this album is the songs are too long at times, sometimes playing like a couple of different, unrelated tunes stuck together with a bridge.
While not something likely to become an instant classic, or indeed anyone’s favourite album, ‘Materia’ is an album to revisit when you can’t face a dose of screaming bloody gore. Imagine Opeth without the boring bits, or a less folk-oriented Amorphis. And forget all your hair-splitting genre labels, like atmospheric melodic trad/death folk metal, because you’ll just end up with a silly list of meaningless words which don’t come near describing the music.