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Novembers Doom feature

| June 28, 2007

Novembers Doom
Dark Waters


“I live in pain continuously,” says Novembers Doom frontman Paul Kuhr from an otherwise chipper-sounding home in suburban Lyons. “I’m sorry, hold on one second.”

It’s 4 p.m. and the 35-year-old death/doom metal singer is asking his daughter to go to another room and play. “Daddy has a phone call,” he whispers, as if sharing a secret. The happy noise trails off. When Kuhr rejoins the interview, he keeps his voice down and drops the second half of what initially sounded suspect. Another “tortured artist” cliché?

If he could only be so lucky.

“About eight years ago I was diagnosed with a spinal disease called spinal stenosis. And it is slowly degenerating my spine. It has been a great discomfort. I’ve been on Vicodin for the past six years, so I’m dealing with that addiction.”

Seconds pass as the long-haired growler’s words sink in. Nowhere on the band’s Web site or press kit is this mentioned. Did he just say spinal stenosis?

“I get into it in the book,” he confirms, describing an 84-page Novembers Doom reader’s guide, The Wayfaring Chronicles, which coincides with the release of a new CD, The Novella Reservoir (The End). “I went back through our entire catalog of six albums, and I wrote a detailed explanation of every song lyric from every album.” He also designed the book. The 6-footer was a full-time graphic designer before he became ill. It’s now difficult for him to get out of bed. “Everything is a challenge,” he says.

Songs like “Dark World Burden” from The Pale Haunt Departure take on a literal meaning the more Kuhr opens up. Spinal stenosis causes severe pain in the lower back, legs, and feet. If left untreated, nerve damage and paralysis can occur. Songwriting is a fundamental part of his therapy, he explains. The man knows his limits, but playing metal is as much a priority to him now as it was when Novembers Doom formed in 1989. Occasional live shows aren’t out of the question.

“It’s more mental preparation than anything physical,” he sighs. “I guess when I’ve dealt with pain for this long, it has kind of become part of my everyday life . . . I have good days and bad days, you know?”

Kuhr has been wrestling real-life demons through three albums. His vocals on CD, purged from the depths of all that is guttural, retain an air of clarity. They bleed out of a torn body, sounding nearly subhuman. But somehow they’re perfectly understandable. It’s an art he picked up from the mid-’80s Chicago death metal scene. Novembers Doom’s early influences were as much local as they were British or European.

“When we first started the band, there were no big, popular doom bands out there doing what we wanted to do. We didn’t have My Dying Bride or somebody at the time who we looked at and said, ‘Hey, we want to do that,'” he explains. “The concept of the band in the beginning was to be as heavy and guttural as [Sweden’s] Grave, only played very slowly. And my lyric style was to be as clear as [Chicago’s] Devastation or Sindrome.”

This merging of the metals would become attributed to bands like Katatonia and Opeth — Swedish acts who found a convenient audience in a thriving early-’90s European metal scene. Kuhr says Novembers Doom were victims of location.

“We’ve been around as long — if not longer — than these bands you’re mentioning, doing basically what we’ve been doing all along. It just so happens we were trading demos with some of the bigger bands way back in the day, and when the European hierarchy hit big in the early ’90s, bands like us were completely overlooked. I think it’s just because we’re an American band, and people just don’t want to give any American band credit for the genre.”

Kuhr has more important things to fret over these days. Doom implies a distant misery. His hell is with him daily. The music has moved on.

“Nothing against the genre. We all still like the traditional doom stuff.” But in an era where “doom” is a sort of hipster catch phrase, Kuhr is uneasy with the association. “I’d rather go and play with a band like Gojira or Lamb Of God or something like that, where we’re going to play in front of a completely different audience who very well may appreciate what we’re doing more . . . I mean, if you listen to the new album, it’s really hard to call that a doom record.”

Beginning with To Welcome The Fade in 2002, Novembers Doom have enveloped the raw, visceral pain of Kuhr’s disease. “It has been this progression of aggression, speed, and anger,” he says. Their albums now lean more toward death metal than doom metal. “I have a lot more anger in my body than I did before. Given my situation, there’s a lot to deal with mentally and physically, and all of that has started to come out in my writing.”

The Novella Reservoir brims with crushing riffs, sharp-edged arrangements, and agonized philosophy. During the album’s title track, Kuhr’s unholy roar plays devil’s advocate on a skeptic’s deathbed: “After all the pain that you’ve been through/Do you believe he’ll be there for you?” A clean chorus pulls the plug on agnostic debate: “You’re not the savior of this world/A simple life has come to pass.” On an album that frames each song around one aspect of water, the title track is as cold as ice.

“I do a lot of religious overtones. I’m not a very religious person,” Kuhr says. “The previous CD, The Pale Haunt Departure, was very much a struggle between faith and hope. You know, the difference between what’s really there and what you hope to be there. This album has a lot of that kind of overtone as well.”

“Rain” and “Drown The Inland Mere” augment Kuhr’s suffocating throatwork with heart-attack speed. The latter song trots brazenly before keeling over at the two-minute mark. Kuhr bellows like an animal torn in two, “This is my final struggle/This is my dying day!” Guitarists Larry Roberts and Vito Marchese steer the track back on course with dramatic chugs and pinch harmonics, reminding listeners that even in agony, heavy metal still feels good. The sentiment isn’t lost on Kuhr.

“I find that even some of the most depressing music written can also be some of the most uplifting,” he says. “I mean, when you’re depressed, you don’t want to go put on a happy record. You want to go put on something kind of melancholic.”

Disease. Pain. Aggression. Depression. Death. It’s a heavy list for anyone to bear, but in Kuhr’s case, he would like to add one more word: humor.

When reminded he gave his band a grammatically incorrect name, he laughs out loud. “Honestly, the true story is the apostrophe did not look good in the logo . . . so we just left it off the logo, and it just became part of the name now for all these years, and that’s it.”

Grammar, of course, is the least of his worries.

— Mike Meyer

Category: Features, Monthly

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