Novembers Doom's eighth studio album takes its title from the darkest ocean depths: the region beyond the reach of all sunlight, otherwise known as the aphotic zone, and their fans therefore can't be blamed for mistaking this reference as a sign of newfound extremity. But, instead, Aphotic represents something of a balancing act between the brutality of ND's distant past (though at much faster tempos) and the slightly more accessible evolutionary curve delineated by its recent predecessors. To wit: eight-minute opener "The Dark Host" is easily the heftiest Novembers Doom composition in some time, but its initial black metal fury duly gives way to quieter reveries reminiscent of Swedish prog-death giants Opeth. So too, the unrelenting, double-kick drum-motivated "Harvest Scythe" leads into the gothic-tinged death/doom of "Buried," and then the impossibly tender, minimalist "What Could Have Been," featuring ND frontman Paul Kuhr in a duet with the angelic Anneke Van Giersbergen, of the Gathering fame. Quite a study in contrasts, in other words. And the same could be said, to a lesser degree, for the two-part "Of Age and Origin," as well as subsequent, extended efforts like "Six Sides" and the broodingly understated "Shadow Play." But while the last cut serves up a meaningful farewell until next time, the former two tracks show a disturbing trend toward songwriting sloppiness and poorly metered lyrics, suggesting a lack of interest, time, or distraction by bandmembers involved with a few too many parallel musical projects. Either way, these occasional blunders are hardly fair to Novembers Doom's formidable legacy or their fans, and they also make any discussion about the band's creative direction (and their relative merits) totally irrelevant, since the only way the Chicago band appears to be going is down, and into a darker place than Aphotic's title suggests, to boot. Here's hoping for a turnaround.
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AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia