Album Title: Eleventh Hour
Label: Frontiers Records
Date of Release: 6 March 2020
I must apologise for being late bringing this review to you. Firstly, I wasn’t able to listen enough whilst the promo was only available in streaming format. There’s simply no way you can digest music of this nature by snatching quick listens here and there when WiFi is available. I refuse to do that. Secondly, once I was able to download it and listen more thoroughly, I initially struggled with it.
I doesn’t help that the quality of the promo in places is poor and robs the reviewer of something approaching the full listening experience. But aside from that, I must have listened to ‘Eleventh Hour’ a couple of times without any kind of spark or interest. Nothing grabbed me and I thought it was rather bland, forgettable, and lacking in memorable melodies within the complexity. I therefore put it to one side and found that I had to force myself to play it again late one evening.
I will admit to having trouble getting to sleep some nights. I hate the silence, a silence that usually sets my mind to wandering, usually down dark paths. I have therefore taken to listening to music while I drift off and it was on one of these evenings, ironically around 11pm that I had my epiphany. Something just clicked and since then, listening to ‘Eleventh Hour’ has been a completely different experience.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that I struggled initially because ‘Eleventh Hour’ features Haken vocalist Ross Jennings and is touted to be an album for fans of Haken’s ‘Aquarius’ and ‘Visions’. And boy, did I struggle with ‘Aquarius’ initially too, only to take it to my heart after persevering for some time. ‘Eleventh Hour’ has proved to be almost identical. Not that the music is identical you understand. Yes, with Jennings behind the mic, there are going to be parallels drawn. And, with the complex and quirky nature of the album, there are definitely nods towards those aforementioned Haken records. I’d be foolish not to recognise them.
However, for all that, these guys have an identity of their own and that’s testament to the musicians that have assembled under the Novena moniker. Much of this has to do with the presence of vocalist Gareth Mason (Slice The Cake), who provides his unique lyricism to the album throughout. In addition though, Novena boasts further excellent artists, namely guitarist/keyboardist Harrison White, guitarist Dan Thornton, bassist Moat Lowe and drummer Cameron Spence.
Those who read my review of the band’s debut EP, minus Mason, will know that I had a few reservations. Principally, I felt that the EP was trying to do too much and the music lacked the cohesion and focus that perhaps it required. The good news with ‘Eleventh Hour’, is that there is indeed more focus, more cohesion and more of an identity. The clever thing is that this has been achieved without seemingly losing any of their creative verve; this album is still all over the place, encompassing everything from extreme metal riffs and growls, right through to the lightest and brightest of breezy passages. And yet, it feels like an album somehow, with strong threads running through it. So credit where it’s due, ‘Eleventh Hour’ is a big step up from the EP in this regard.
‘Eleventh Hour’ is also a big step up in other areas too, in my opinion. The songwriting feels more assured, more commanding and in control. The band may experiment boldly throughout the ten compositions but unlike the EP, it never feels like it could all unravel in a dirty heap on the floor. You feel like the musicians understand much more what they are all about and what they are trying to achieve. It’s not flawless, but ‘Eleventh Hour’ is undeniably very good in this regard. Even when they go all Latin and flamenco, complete with hand-clapping within ‘Corazón’, the end result makes sense and is both entertaining and enjoyable despite being well out of my normal comfort zone.
I’ve got to be honest and say that whilst I get what the band are trying to do, the opening track ’2258’ is a little pointless. The content is barely audible for a start and generally when I listen to the album, I start with track two, ’2259’. It was this song that acted as the gateway to my epiphany. It is a multi-layered and multi-faceted track that is littered with some excellent musicianship from all concerned, both subtle and more overt in its delivery. The juxtaposition between the quiet jazz-like moments, and the roaring growls and heavier riffs is stark, but it all fits together brilliantly; some might say homogenously. And the glue that holds everything together is the melody that the song deploys. Some of the melodies are buried deep, whilst others float on the surface. But regardless, they are all impressively disarming, striking when least expected and sticking with me long after the song has ended.
If I went into this amount of detail about each song, you’d still be reading this review at Easter. Therefore, I’ll say that barring the intro, every other one of the remaining nine tracks brings something extremely interesting and enjoyable to the table if you’re willing to give them a fair crack of the whip.
To give a few examples, ‘Sun Dance’ is a shorter and more concise track where the riffs are strong, the bass work is gorgeous and equally gorgeous is the chorus and the energetic lead guitar solo that ensues. Lead single ‘Disconnected’ begins with a ‘The Mountain’-like vibe before launching into a stunning section dominated by Jennings’ impossibly high-pitched vocals. From there, it dances with a warm and playful zest that’s incredibly addictive and inviting.
‘Sail Away’ is yet another beautiful composition that features delicate piano-led melodies, and is almost dreamlike and whimsical in its approach. It also benefits from Mason’s poetry from the outset, which adds a sense of gravitas and gets the brain ticking. ‘Lucidity’ on the flipside, reintroduces the heavy riffs and extreme metal growls, blending it with plenty of other clever ideas and yet more melodies that only emerge after you’ve spent plenty of time in its company.
To further truncate my waffle, I’ll somewhat reluctantly head straight for the closing song, ‘Prison Walls’, a 15-minute monster that provides a final example of exactly what Novena are capable of. I detect the vaguest of Shadow Gallery influences within the initial riffs and the overall tempo, although this may be entirely coincidental. From there, we are treated to yet more masterful musicianship from every corner of the band, culminating in an expansive, epic-sounding chorus, every bit as rousing as such an album demands from its finale. In between, we get a dark and honest spoken-word diatribe from Mason atop minimalist soundscapes that sends shivers down my spine every time I listen. It descends into heavy, jarring djent territory, complimented by progressive time signatures that swirl and envelop the listener, only to unfurl into the aforementioned stunning crescendo made all the more powerful by the uncomfortable content that immediately precedes it.
If you’re not moved by the final track or by this album as a whole, then I’m afraid that maybe progressive music just isn’t for you and perhaps you should try searching elsewhere for your musical pleasure. For those of you that do like music that is challenging and with genuine depth, ‘Eleventh Hour’ must make it into your collection as quickly as possible. It isn’t negotiable!
The Score of Much Metal: 95%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: