The seventh album from Italian doom mob Novembre and the hotly anticipated follow up to 2007’s ‘the blue’, ‘Urasa’ is a huge step forward for a band who have always made an effort to explore beyond the confining boundaries of doom and to engage with those same progressive overtones that have sat so well with label-mates Katatonia. However, whilst Katatonia reach for the ethereal, Novembre’s melodic ambition is more earthen and drifts into an eerie realm that sits between doom, shoegaze and the melancholy post punk of Joy Division, the result being a dark, moody body of work that works its way under the skin and stays there.
Ursa starts brilliantly with ‘Australis’, an aching piece of shimmering doom that pairs pummelling percussion with reverb-drenched guitar and multi-part vocals that overlap and echo around the listener. Yet, ‘Australis’ does not step too far from the metal template and the surging riff that the band launch in the second half of the song show that Novembre are still proud to show their metal roots. The varied yet disciplined approach is key to the melancholic atmosphere the band weave around the listener and ‘Australis’ shows the band deftly playing to their strengths, fully utilising the tracks extended (seven minute) run time to fully explore a number of fascinating musical themes that surface. Recalling A Perfect Circle, ‘The rose’ opens with a naked vocal wrapped in gossamer synth before the guitars spark into life and the track takes an altogether more metallic stance. With deathly growls to the fore, ‘the rose’ has more in common with My Dying Bride and the juxtaposition between the carefully layered harmonies and unholy grunts serves the band well. No less elegiac is the subtle, haunting ‘Umana’, a track that drifts in similar dreamy pastures as Katatonia’s recent semi-unplugged offerings. However, the track, as so many of the pieces here, defies easy categorisation, and as the song progresses it moves into heavier territory, with sampled voices and deathly growls all adding to the sublime atmosphere the band conjure. Arguably the album’s most straight forward rocker, ‘Easter’ makes use of subtle piano lines and aching leads that bring to mind mid-period Paradise Lost, although Novembre add their own unique voice to this in the form of rich, unutterably beautiful harmonies that take the music itself in wholly new directions. It’s a fine track with plenty of depth and, like the other offering here, one you’ll be happy to listen to over and again.
The album’s title track opens up the second half and its awkward time combines with some truly brutal vocals to give a truly jarring feel to the piece. Like King Crimson jamming on Darkthrone, it’s dark, deathly and yet complex, always twisting just outside your grasp as growls and harmonies stack up against David Folchitto’s stunning performance on drums. A more relaxed piece, ‘Oceans of afternoons’ is a musical treat that matches the evocative nature of the title and proves to be a dreamy song that drifts deep into the realm of shoegaze with its hypnotic beat, somnolent vocals and miasmic guitars. It’s an album highlight and further evidence of Novembre’s indisputable mastery of the form. Another stand out track, ‘Annoluce’ (feat. Anders Nystrom on vocals) recalls ‘last fair deal gone down’ era Katatonia with its taut pacing and rich chorus. From out of leftfield, ‘Agathae’ initially has a folk feel and opens with a guitar figure that feels like it should be played on a lute. A dark, pastoral jig it leads into the album’s longest track (at some nine and a half minutes) and it showcases the band exploring the wide realm of their inspiration to glorious effect on a semi-instrumental that never ceases to amaze. With the album leaping towards its conclusion, ‘Bremen’ is a harrowing blast of deathly doom that shifts from icy screams to rich harmonies on a knife edge. The album closes with the lengthy, gorgeous ‘Fin’, a rich, velveteen conclusion to an album that consistently sets out to surprise.
Beautifully produced by that doyen of the studio, Dan Swano, ‘Ursa’ is, without doubt, Novembre’s most thrillingly mature effort to date. Stunningly atmospheric and yet possessed of a powerful metallic punch when needed, ‘Ursa’ is one of those sweeping albums that takes you on a vivid journey of the imagination and it’s impossible to ignore the inspiration that burns at the heart of this very special album. One can only imagine the pride the band must feel at this body of work, and it will unquestionably find itself high on album of the year lists amongst discerning fans. Progressive in the truest sense of the word, ‘Ursa’ sees November absorbing numerous influences, but the output is unquestionably their own and this richly inventive album is nothing short of momentous.