On their tenth album, Novembers Doom delve deeper into the musical terrain they began to experiment with on 2005's Pale Haunt Departure: An unapologetically emotional form of doom that judiciously draws on elements of death, progressive, and Gothic metal. As is customary, Chris Wisco and Dan Swano resume their longtime roles as producer and mixer. That said, with the same lineup returning from 2013's Bled White, this marks the very first time -- in 28 years! -- that this band has used the same players on two consecutive albums.
The word "Hamartia" comes from Greek theater: it refers to a fatal character flaw leading to the downfall of the protagonist in a tragedy. It's perfect for what frontman Paul Kuhr offers lyrically on this sad and angry album. While death metal is still an unmistakable part of the equation, doom, prog, and Goth metal dominate. Kuhr's dirty vocals appear as a forefront attack on opener "Devil's Light" as well as "Apostasy" and "Zephyr" -- all killer tracks -- but his clean singing is more prevalent, even when intros or choruses feature his nasty-as-hell roar. While an equanimous balance has proved a winning formula in the past, the growled vocals here are a dramatic textural element providing contrast rather than being the music's driving force. "Plague Bird," with its pronounced Gothic overtones, is a standout. The death metal charge led by Garry Naples' drums adds tension as Kuhr starts wailing, but a gorgeous melodic thread finds its way through squalling guitar and bass chug. "Ghost" is the set's absolute scorcher. An impenetrable wall of doom is tempered by Kuhr's almost tender melodic vocal. The softer verses still contain the hint of menace, but the choruses rage. "Miasma" offers an enormous guitar riff, but quickly dissolves into a syncopated dark rocker with Rhiannon Kuhr providing a bittersweet backing vocal. The drums blast through the choruses as the guitars and low-tuned basses administer punishment, but even so, it's the clean singing that gets the lyrics across more effectively. "Zephyr" (again featuring Rhiannon Kuhr) is forceful as hell, with its churning crunch and merciless death riffs -- but that's before prog takes over to claim it. A bluesy slide guitar introduces "Waves in Red Cloth" but it's subsumed under an impenetrable instrumental wall of doom as Kuhr uses his clear baritone to offer a tale of tragedy and loss. The motion is so taut he finally gives in to a monstrous side of rage as portrayed by the guttural vocal interlude. Hamartia feels like a transitional album, which is not to demean its quality. Lyrically, it is one of, if not the, best albums Novembers Doom have ever released. There's enough musical imagination and variety to keep all but the most closed-minded fan interested throughout. That said, prog, doom, and Gothic metal are an irresistible triad the way Novembers Doom combine them, so don't be surprised if they ultimately cross the bridge and leave death metal behind at some point.