Novena – Eleventh Hour (Album Review)

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Frontiers Music continues to surprise us this year with interesting releases. After the recent arrival of hard rock gems like Dirty Shirley and Black Swan’s debut albums, the upward trend gets even steeper with the revelation of Novena’s “Eleventh Hour”.

To put things into perspective, Novena is a new progressive metal/rock act from the UK, featuring front-man Ross Jennings (Haken) and other established UK musicians: Gareth Mason (Slice The Cake) also on vocals, Dan Thornton (Ex-HAARP Machine, Ex-No Sin Evades His Gaze) on guitar, Cameron Spence  (Ravenface) on drums, Moat Lowe’s (Slugdge, Ex-NSEHG) on bass and Harrison White on keyboards and guitar. Their first sonic register came in 2016, in the shape of a widely praised experimental EP entitled “Secondary Genesis” (no pun intended as far as I know). Now, with their debut LP, Novena continues to develop their identity and taps into something fresh, enticing and unique, which is a quintessential example of “something greater than the sum of its parts”.

Having performed at high profile concerts like UK-Tech Fest in 2016 and 2017, as well as other dates supporting Skyharbor, Vola, Sithu Aye, and others, Novena has been busy establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with. And while it would be easy to assume that the band was formed purely as a platform for Ross Jennings musings outside of the confines of Haken, the very first listen of “Eleventh Hour” will quickly dismiss this perception, which each component of the band being allowed their time to shine and clearly bringing a lot to the table.

“Eleventh Hour” kicks in with two curiously named tracks: 22:58, which is just an intro, and 22:59, a lengthy journey rooted on a melody from Haken’s “The Mountain” which takes many interesting turns, with Ross’ melodic vocals contrasting with Gareth’s deathcore growls, and jazzy moments sprinkled between djenty, syncopated prog-metal riffs.

“Eleventh Hour” Album Artwork

Next up is “Sun Dance”. Heavy, catchy and dare I say commercial, in the good sense of the word, this track seems determined to challenge the notion that prog-rock music is made to entertain only acne-filled nerds who cannot wait for their next RPG game. What a relief it is to listen to music that is well thought out but not overproduced, complex but not taxing to listen to. If only the type of music that dominates the airwaves and the ears of youth today weren’t so insipid, guitar-free and uninspired, one could see this song turn into a hit.

“Disconnected” starts with a dazzling vocal melody from Ross and distortion-free guitars and builds up on the pop overtones of the previous track, painting a beautiful sonic landscape. With two vocalists of such caliber, it’s no wonder that one of the strongest features of the album is the tasteful clash between their styles. This becomes even more evident on the captivating “Sail Away” and on the lengthy “Lucidity”, where Ross employs his usual, pleasant-sounding register, and Gareth comes in with an eerie, spoken word kind of delivery. The lyrics here escape the usual clichés, and further enhance the listener’s experience: “I am the chord progression seeking resolution, but constantly modulating around the root. I am the shades of grey that keep the meek awake at night. I am…the meek awake at night”.

The dense aspect of “Lucidity” is alleviated by the lightness of “Corazon”, not only a high point of the album, but one of the best prog-rock songs I’ve heard in recent times, period! As the title suggests, it brings salsa, flamenco, Spanish spoken lyrics and other Latin influences into a delicious mashup. One would think these rhythms would never be a good match, but any preconceived notion is quickly dismissed. Who knew prog-rock could be romantic or, God forbid, sexy!

For the progressive purists who are hell bent on track lengths, Novena saved the best for last, with the last two numbers being the longest. Growling vocals aside, “The Tyrant” is probably the track that swims closest to Haken shores in the whole album, but also brings Muse influences and great fretwork from Harrison White and Dan Thornton, with mind-blowing, light-speed solos and moodier, slow tempo passages. “Prison Walls” is another genre-bending track, again bringing strange elements into the realms of prog. In this case, boogie and the blues are mixed with the odd time signatures, atmospheric passages, and an emotional delivery by both singers. Gareth’s performance here is akin to that of a theater actor, convincingly uttering the dramatic lyrics addressing a tale of misplaced childhood, followed by a frantic riff above a tribal beat. The rhythm session is no slouch either, with Cameron and Moat almost stealing the spotlight on several moments throughout the track. As the last notes of the album unfold, the whole band seems to find their sound, reach congruence and identity and in true Nietzsche style, become who they are. In the end, the listener is left with a sense of completeness, but also already longing for what’s next in this group’s career.

Press releases tend to exaggerate the achievements of an album, but in this case, one could argue this is actually an understatement: “Novena’s music moves from the profound to the profane, from the fragile to the unforgiving, and from the introspective to the utterly destructive, exploring a plethora of different genres along the way.” Credits to the producer and to the band for making this melting pot of ideas into something coherent and solid. The risk of mixing so many styles is to make an album that points in all directions and misses most of its targets, but that impression is nowhere to be found here. Coronavirus hysteria permitting, Novena are ready to embark on a tour in support to the spring release of the new album. I wouldn’t miss it if I were you!

Released by: Frontiers Music SLR
Released Date: March 6th, 2020
Genre: Progressive Metal

 Band Members:

  • Ross Jennings / Vocals
  • Gareth Mason / Vocals
  • Harrison White / Guitar, Keys
  • Dan Thornton / Guitar
  • Moat Lowe / Bass
  • Cameron Spence / Drums

“Eleventh Hour” Track-listing:

  1. 22:58
  2. 22:59
  3. Sun Dance
  4. Disconnected
  5. Sail Away
  6. Lucidity
  7. Corazón
  8. Indestructible
  9. The Tyrant
  10. Prison Walls
9.3 Excellent

As prog-metal stalwarts such as Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Queensrÿche are now completing decades of career and transitioning into legacy bands, it's refreshing to see acts like Novena carrying the torch that was first lit by combining the ever-expansive structures of prog and the combustible nature of the metal riff. “Eleventh Hour” shows a band that sounds surprisingly mature, with the courage to take risks whilst also being wise enough to combine their experimentations into a consistent structure. And the steampunk-styled cover is a major bonus!

  • Songwriting 10
  • Musicianship 10
  • Originality 9
  • Production 8
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