Review Summary: Kent 5-piece completely outdo themselves here with this progressive hardcore masterpiece, only to go completely unnoticed at the time.
In 2003, The British hardcore scene exploded. Most specifically, it happened in the South East corner of it. The 'Canterbury Hardcore Scene' (sometimes the words Straight Edge were dropped in there too at the time) was both reviled and excruciated over, country-wide. It was both the best and worst thing to happen in the underground music scene and also for a band, hailing from Ashford, Kent about 20 miles away, called November Coming Fire.
It was an exciting time to be around because, it gave a lot of exposure to young budding artists in the UK, particularly in the South, which gave bands like The Break In and Chariots the opportunity to get their names heard. It also meant things like the infamous, NCF-organised, 'Converge Scout Hut' show where they literally created a Converge show in a 100 capacity Boy Scouts meeting place. It was also a plague because, this is Hardcore in 2003, and by now, particularly in the UK it would seem, the whole 'macho', aggressive, and thug-like behaviour was the underbelly of this scene. It both supported and eventually imploded it, too.
What happened then, was a band having to completely re-invent itself and fight for attention all over again. Gone were the promising but still slightly childish, breakdown heavy, average hardcore fan friendly, songs off 'Black Ballads'. Now that the Hardcore purists had dropped them and the heat and attention surrounding their home-county had cooled off, they were able to do, pretty much whatever the hell they wanted. Inspired by the bull*** of the people that once surrounded them, and the dark, creepy and atmospheric locations nearby, they manage to write a record, so full of spit it was impossible to not notice, so full of intricacies that you couldn't help but be impressed, and above all, so full of atmosphere that you couldn't help, but be surprised. This is one of the most original, and unlikely records to have come out of the UK, let alone a band that once were the key generic-breakdown hardcore bands of the time. Here, they let themselves be completely free of restrictions and shackles; it's just a shame not many others were.
Dungeness, is both a seaside town in Kent known as "The End of the World" (it's the most South East point of Britain) and a stunning record. The town, is a rather depressing one. It's key landmarks are; its beach, its lighthouses, its two (at the time) nuclear powerstations, and, a little black house (Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeness). It is a virtually deserted place of human population and proved the perfect setting for NCF's full-length opus (many of the song names takes references from key landmarks), as the place is both as dark, atmospheric and mysterious as is this album. Take songs like 'Powerstation' or 'HMS Blackwater' (or the 3 minute comedown after 'Closure' which is just waves crashing) both songs that make references to technical, riff-based hardcore (Inspired by the likes of Converge and Old Man Gloom) but spliced in with genuine atmosphere. I remember the first time I saw 'Powerstation' live, (supporting The Hope Conspiracy, December 2005) and I remember being absolutely blown away by it. It starts with a stop-start rhythm section, and a relentless guitar riff that practically manages to menacingly rip throughout this song. It progresses, into a fantastic battling ground for the shifting, explosive rhythm section, and the counter balancing guitars, whom, eventually win when this track's outro takes over of a haunting, repeated guitar riff, being played to the sounds of waves crashing and a mystic speaking in a archaic language; it is a truly stunning piece of songwriting, full of rage and atmosphere, a hard thing to get right, and something I think even the mighty Converge would be enviable of.
This is only half of it though, the real anger and excitement, comes from the fake and unrealistic people of which this band grew up with, and songs like 'Closure' or 'That Black House Made of Rubber' or 'Devil on the Shore' are short, fast shocks, which still take on designed to express total anger and contempt, but still filled with the signature, technical intricacies that make this band both original and exciting.
And then, there's the incredible amount of individual work that is poured into this heartfelt record. This is, in my opinion, one of the most technically and aesthetically pleasing records around. Ross Smith's drumming for instance, is absolutely astounding. His way of carving little fills and variations are that of a truly original and articulate nature that keeps this album alive even in its more subdued moments; but not to the extent where it becomes overblown or self-indulgent. Then, there's the guitars. Although a group effort in many ways, there seems no doubting that, (now a music school teacher) George Clift is a fantastic and inventive songwriter. The way the songs progress in such violent fashion but not so much that it becomes chaotic screamo, but then takes its leads from simple dischords and very-occasionally, Isis style-riffing in its other moments is great. The fact of the matter is, is that instrumentally, this album is just light years ahead of itself. Every instrument contributes something fantastic in the dense, layered music, that is Hardcore, and at times definitely recognisable (see - 'The Jackal') it is also amazingly original and shifts in very exciting ways appropriate to the moment (see - 'Queenlist Dead' or 'Argonaut'). It's both tuneful and noise at the same time, and that makes this a very exciting prospect indeed.
Finally though, there's the vocal performance from Gareth Evans (something I haven't mentioned once yet). Evans, is probably the least immediate member of the group; his vocal style is subtle because its not the absolutely overpowering roars of say, Botch, but not quite the obscure and almost instrumental barks of Converge. This leaves it somewhere in the middle then, with his lyrics decipherable (and at times touching and brilliant) but still a gruff shout, but not quite sounding like ***ed Up's gruffness of Modern Life is War's more clear-cut, powerful and emotive efforts. In fact, Evans takes bits and pieces from all of these and plays around with him, and is used where appropriate for the delivery and moment. His pining on 'Providence' shouting; "I'd rather live with regret than die without even trying; I'm giving in to giving up."
manages to be very touching, whereas, his somewhat 'anti-everything' anthem of 'Closure''s frankly terrifying "I'll be the saint nailed to your cross/your treachery the spear in my side/This is what I call Closure/ go *** yourself."
But you know what's best about this record? Put simply, because it works. There isn't anything else to describe it. The band were so confident with themselves and the using the influences at their disposal to create something truly mind bogglingly original, but also, just a record that flows. There isn't a bad song, nor a song that feels out of place, because, from it's dark artwork and eerie opening of 'Blue Reigns', the record is already screaming at you that it has managed to find an amazing combination of technical, metal influenced Hardcore Punk, emotion, and atmosphere. It's got depth, density and is dark, it has had little touches added like samples to add to the atmosphere, or more obvious attempts like 'Instrumental no.2', but at the other end, it also just has straight up fantastic song writing.
Honestly, I want to give this a 5 rating. To me, the UK has produced something so special in such a long time that it deserves it. This record is flawless. But, I'm aware of the fanboyism accusations that will follow and, ultimately, continue to dismiss this band, even after their splitting up in August 2007. So perhaps, 4.5 is more appropriate simply because, this record probably won't ever be as influential as its American counterparts, ie; Converge; Botch; Isis, but it is interesting to see that now, a year and a half later and this band split up, more and more bands are turning up dotted around the UK sounding like this does.
The fact of the matter is, this is a truly original and exciting record, that simply went unthanked, perhaps because it is ahead of its time in an unfashionable genre, and eventually took its toll on the band. The main positive, is that this record can't ever be tarnished, because although the 2007 demos and split release with Gallows both promised exciting material, how they would ever follow this record up is beyond me. But, I will continue to take it upon me to get the word out about this, masterpiece, and if in ten years time it gets a special edition re-release like Botch's 'We Are the Romans' did last week, then I'd like to think that I helped, and that it was thoroughly deserved.
RIP NOVEMBER COMING FIRE 2001-2007