Novembre – ‘Ursa’ (Album Premiere)
As any longtime readers of this site probably already know, I have a weakness for a certain style of gorgeous and gothic death metal—most call it the Peaceville sound, because it was popularized by Anathema, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride while all three bands were signed to Peaceville records in the early ’90s.
Wouldn’t you know it, Novembre play in the same sandbox, and they’re also signed to Peaceville. It’s been nine years since they last released an album, but when 2007’s The Blue came out, this kind of music couldn’t have been less en vogue. All that’s old is new again: not only is the Peaceville sound making a bit of a comeback (see last year’s album by Draconian) but Novembre’s particular super-clean rendition is less crowded since Paradise Lost reintroduced growls and filthy distortion into their sound. On this new album, Ursa, the group has doubled down on the sound’s origins, with Dan Swano behind the boards and guest spots from members of Katatonia, but have also added in some french post-black metal into their sound for an even more pillowey atmosphere. Workout music this ain’t, but it’s perfect for the sauna afterward.
Guitarist and singer Carmelo Orlando provided liner notes for Ursa which offer some more in-depth information on his band’s nuanced music, and their experience with producer Dan Swano:
“Australis,” the opening track: it’s the first thing you’re gonna hear from us after nine years of silence. Quite a defining moment. It starts with a calm shore sound and major chords (quite rare in our compositions) to empathize a sense of rebirth, a new beginning. It’s a track which has different moods, a panorama of sounds and emotions spanning from hope, to rage, introspecting calmness and impetuousness again. The track’s ending has been blessed by the touch of extremely beautiful piano notes, courtesy of our friend Riccardo Studer.
“The Rose” kicks harder. It bears a Russian-like theme throughout its whole length, both vocally and harmonically. There are many scale step-ups and a haunting refrain, which leads to the tracks higher moment, which is Massimiliano [Pagliuso]’s solo! This is probably the only song where there are two solos actually, the other one being mine. There’s an unusual, stand-alone ending which is quite riddley and enigmatic, made of low guitar tapping and ambiances.
“Umana” (Italian for ‘humane’) is quite an old track, maybe eight years old but it somehow managed to remain fresh. It’s the first step into our new era, where songs got rid of useless frills and soar up above easier. I like to think of it a new ‘Nostalgiaplatz’. At least that’s the mood it draws you into as it begins. Then it gets wilder and screamy. The ending part is a “crescendo” march leading to a of chorus climax.
Also lyrically, we expanded into new territories, a no-man’s land where philosophy, sociology and psychology meet. We let a giant like philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti speak for us.
It’s a martial and austere track. Quite medieval in its visions and harmonic curlicues. A truly old-school doomy track with reverbed guitar harmonies and piano ornaments. Clean vocal harmonies and screamings cohabit this hollow monastery.
This is the title track. We’re very attached to this one. There’s some eastern European folk vibe about it. Reason why we relate to this one is because it deals with themes we’re very interested in lately; such as Animalism and the George Orwell’s narrative, issues that only mirror the inner state of our soul.
Ursa was the title initially chosen for the French translation of Orwell’s masterpiece, Animal Farm. It was the acronym for —Union des Républiques Socialistes Animales (and Ursa means also ‘the bear’, Soviet Union’s symbol) but eventually it was changed in fear of Stalin’s counterblow. So I borrowed it. It perfectly suits what I envisioned as this song is played: I loved its bone chilling ending flutes.
Oceans of Afternoons
Not sure which is my album’s favourite, but “Oceans of Afternoons” is certainly one of the best candidates. Big, big pain to write. Not sure how many versions of it have been written but in the end we’re proud of it. This song is relax, it’s fresh air, a trip back to our wombs.
We experimented with atmospheric sounds, clean guitars, ’80s artificial drum pads. Also: seagulls, ocean-waves. And Dan Swano was able to blend everything nice and clean.
Tatiana Ronchetti is singing with me. She has a uniquely delicate voice which helped creating the right mood. What truly makes the difference here is a saxophone solo from Paolo Sapia. He definitely gave the song the Floydian vibe I was looking for.
This is the wild one. The single track. It’s a fast paced beast adorned with oriental sounding harmonies. It’s the typical track you wanna head-bang to. The sound is massive and Dan made sure it sounded great. But the best thing this track could benefit was the guest solo, performed from Anders Nystrom from Katatonia
This is a track that needs proper introduction. It’s definitely a stand-alone. A nine-minute instrumental which I was never sure we could pull off. I think it’s 20 years old. I must have written it right after ‘Wish I could Dream It Again’ was released, back in 1995, but it was too pretentious for me to even show to the others, so I kept it in the drawer. Back then I wrote a clear structure of the track but I wouldn’t know how to play it, how to organize the clean guitars, the classical, the acoustics. Let alone the effects it needed in order to be a functional track and not just a bunch riffs glued together. For some people (like myself) songwriting and musicianship don’t go hand in hand!!!
It needed its time to grow up. I’m not sure how many guitar tracks are there but there are a lot. And during the recordings Massimiliano was about to give up. He was always telling me Pro Tools wouldn’t make it. But hey, it did, and once again Dan worked a miracle, a masterpiece of mixing! It’s folky, it’s Slayerian, it’s black metal fast, chaos, evil spirits, and relaxing harmonies. Massimiliano overcame his shredder’s abilities with a solo of rare beauty and speed! This song is a song of mysticism, uncontrolled homesickness . . . a journey to hell and back. Something Ulysses must have experienced.
It is probably the most ‘death metal’ of the lot. And it’s not. By the way, it starts with a fading-in early-Maidenian arpeggio and then it attacks with a typical northern European death metal crushing riff which takes good part of the song. Then all of a sudden it gets dramatically sad, with minor chords and vocal harmonies. (Fifths mainly. I love the fifths, so medieval.)
Then a dark arpeggio which paints thunder and lightning, and turns into one of the most devastating riffs we ever wrote. Our drummer, David Folchitto’s final double bass made it epic. And yes, lyrically I took inspiration from the novel Town Musicians of Bremen by the Brothers Grimm. Animalism once again, mixing with my visions, of war, de-personalization, empty halls, severance and the usual suspects!
“Fin” is a little diamond to me. Precious, white and cold. Foggy, lost in some other time. I love it. It came out exactly as I could only dream it would! And I thank Dan Swano for that. A misinterpreted mix can ruin a song forever and make you hate it. Not quite the case!
It starts with a ’70s ballad-flavored arpeggio, where jazzy brushes and string orchestrations complete the painting. The track grows throughout scale changes and vocal harmonies. In the middle part we could experiment a few things with delays, keyboards, vocoders, in a truly intimate march lead by a ‘heartbeat’ effect. And then, the final apocalypse, a super crushing reprisal, where Dan experimented a lot with my voice.