French progressive metalcore band Novelists are back with their second full-length album, Noir, out on September 8 through Sharptone Records. Sophomore releases are always tricky, as comparisons are inevitably drawn to the debut album. In many cases, these albums fall short not because of lack of quality, but the band having different creative goals for their next collection of songs. Let’s see how things go on Noir.
The album opener is “L’appel Du Vide”, which, for those of us are out of practice with our French, means “the call of the void.” The song fades in with some atmospheric synths and rolling guitars that gives way to the piano, drums, and a nice riff. The intensity is scaled back for the opening and cleanly sung verse. The production is noticeably good, with every element sitting nicely in the mix. I find the decision to make this the opening track somewhat strange as there’s a lot of quieter moments both musically and vocally. While the song isn’t bad, it’s somewhat generic and a little too subdued to be memorable.
The next track of note and the second single released is one of the standout songs on the record. “Under Different Welkins” has a lilting guitar intro followed up by a nice progressive metalcore riff. The drumming, while uncomplex, really gives the song a real sense of motion throughout the verses, and makes it a great driving tune. The layered vocals are a nice touch with some of the best growls that we’ll hear on the album and great soaring cleans in the background. This song is grandiose and a bit indulgent, but I enjoyed it and found myself going back for additional listens.
The middle of the album is sadly generic and unmemorable; There’s nothing that demanded my attention in this segment of the record. While there are some interesting elements, like a saxophone on several tracks and a full on nu-metal rap section “Stranger Self”, the middle third of the album is uninteresting overall. The latter third does have a few bright spots beginning with “The Light, The Fire” though.
This was the first single, and there’s no doubt as to why. It is a nice mixture of alternative rock and melodic progressive metalcore. Once again this song starts subtly but is loaded with great hooks and a chorus that puts the rest on the album on notice. The movements of this song also exemplify why the majority of the album falls somewhat flat: the lack of dynamics. When you think metalcore, dynamics are usually a big part of the vocal and instrumental composition. Novelists have stuck to a more straightforward approach compositionally on Noir, and it’s my opinion that this is the wrong path. I wouldn’t call this album boring, but it does lack the punch I expect when listening to a metalcore album.
So did the sophomore slump hit strike again? Well, maybe a little bit. There are things that I do think make this album worth listening to, but not necessarily if you are looking to get more of what the debut had to offer. The instrumentation and vocals have been smoothed and compressed so the hard edges are gone and are missed. With only a handful of standout songs, Noir probably won’t stick with you very long. The lead singles are solid but there’s little else in the remaining tracks to save the album from mediocrity.
Notable Tracks: “The Light, The Fire”; “Under Different Welkins”; “Heal the Wound”
FFO: Architects, Ghost Iris, Hands Like Houses