Novembre - Materia - Peaceville Records / Candlelight Records USA 2006
Running Time: 68:01
From their start as a pretty much by-the-numbers death metal band, Novembre have, over the past fifteen years, reworked their music to become the best Scandinavian melodic death/doom band Italy ever produced. Materia is no mirror-image, though shadows of their Northern comrades may be cast at times on the wall behind a single candle burning in the house where loneliness lives. Still, there's a sense of transcendence found within, almost as if Novembre still isn't quite sure what to make of itself. To these ears, that speaks well of the future for this band, as well as declares a triumph over the past. But for now, Materia...
Carmelo Orlando's vocals immediately set the band apart, being in the middle to high range, as opposed to the deeper delivery found in much of the genre to which Novembre belong. Materia begins with "Verve", fluid guitars winding in and out of the music, which bears a distinct 70s feel, much like what can be found on Amorphis' Tuonela. Driving rhythms propel "Memoria Stoica / Vetro" forward, with a short instrumental interlude around the three-minute-mark giving the musicians a chance to stretch themselves, so to speak, before kicking back into the original mid-paced theme for the finish. "Reason" starts off with gentle acoustic textures, but quickly (too quickly in my opinion) speeds up into the heaviest song thus far on Materia. To their credit, Novembre keep the acoustics present, shifting from subtle fingerings to a percussive strum for much of the song, save a solo section where the opening arrangement returns. The years have turned Novembre into masters of song arrangement, each song having more peaks and valleys than some bands make use of over the course of an entire album. Let it not be said, however, that these shifting dynamics give Materia a scattered sound. In truth, each section flows into the next so smoothly that the transition is nearly seemless. Standing out is "Aquamarine", which moves along with a latter-day Sentenced influence, until a surprisingly raw death vocal rips through near the end, as if reminding the listener of where Novembre got its start. Drums take center stage for "Jules", Giuseppe Orlando working that Mike Portnoy-styled rhythm for all it's worth, which is, in this case, a compliment to his skill behind the kit. Novembre win the award for Most Non-Metal Songtitle Of The Year thus far, with "Geppetto", which - while a good song - I'm hoping has little to nothing to do with the tale of Pinnochio. Still and all, "Geppetto" meets its end in a head-on collision with the pummelling rhythm of "Comedia", quite possibly the most aggressively metallic of the material to be found here. Even when the band lays back on "Comedia", they're still a good bit heavier than on most of Materia. And what would a metal album be without an obscure '80s cover? In this case, the band is Arcadia (most of Duran Duran), and the song is "The Promise". Here, Novembre add their own textures to what was a good pop song, Carmelo's higher register coming in handy while trying to approach the background vocals Sting laid down on the original. The death shriek from before returns for the closing 'Nothijngrad', as do the acoustics, and somewhere in between lies the greatest song on the album.
When I said that Novembre seemed to be unsure of its identity in the opening to this review, some may see that as a bad thing. In most cases, granted, it would be; however, Materia is the sound of a band still willing to follow the path less travelled musically. And that, to paraphrase the poem by Robert Frost, makes all the difference.