I have a confession to make: this is my first experience with Italian gothic death/doom group Novembre (a band who should really only release albums during one month, but I digress). No worries, as I quickly remedied this situation, and the results of URSA are enough to win over just about any metalhead. The band’s sound on URSA (a reference to the original French title for Animal Farm; it’s also a bear) hits the sweet spot between Peaceville’s vaunted death/doom sound (Anathema, My Dying Bride, Katatonia, etc.), mid-career Opeth, with some early Dream Theater prog tendencies thrown in.
From the first minute on, it’s clear Novembre write some of the most beautiful prog metal in the world, and with their seventh record, the group is delving deeper in gothic rock and further away from death metal. Interestingly, one of the two biggest gripes about URSA is the lack of any memorable riffs. The album, and really Novembre’s best asset, is crafting a gorgeous, ethereal atmosphere. The melodies are on-point throughout, rendering the album a perfect candidate for repeat listens to allow the different layers to open up. It also helps the heavier moments really hit hard, like the title track’s opening.
That brings us to the other gripe about the album: Carmelo Orlando’s vocals. His harsh growl is exquisite (really), but his nasally baritone will be a point of contention for many. The music perfectly fits his somewhat limited range, and subsequent listens allowed Carmelo’s voice to win me over; however, some will take some time (or never) get used to his distinct style.
That said, URSA is a wonderful record, full of beautiful melodies, dark atmosphere, and top-notch progressive songwriting. Sure, the band took almost a decade between albums, but Novembre’s long wait has been worth it; URSA will surely go down as one of the best prog metal albums of the year. (Nicholas Senior)