Before I was asked to review the newest EP by experimental fusion metallers Novallo, I had no idea that they would be one of my favourite discoveries of recent years. The music is bombastic and fun, and both performance and production are absolutely superb. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Novallo formed in Columbus Ohio, back in 2006, and was always a metal band that tried to incorporate a wide range of genres. Their self-titled debut EP came out in 2012, and it’s good, but the genre shifting is fairly subtle. Most of the EP is somewhat straightforward djent-infused prog metal, reminiscent of Periphery or Tesseract. Tons of energy and top-notch performances, but nothing that particularly stands out.
Fast forward to 2015, and their sophomore EP Novallo II is a whole different beast. With this second effort, the genre-bending is right up front, and yet seamlessly incorporated at the same time. It gives the album a bigger sense of fun than the first, and a dynamism that is hugely infectious. The EP is short at only 22 minutes, but the amount of musical ground it covers is staggering.
The opening track, Wake, simply serves as a moody introduction to the first song Betty Phage Goes to Bronxton, a jazz-funk-metal fusion masterpiece. It’s quirky, cool, and very very funky. This song alone fits in a number of styles in its 3 minutes, and even manages to find time to fit more atmospheric moments too, with good use of piano mid-way through the song.
Up next is I AM, which is just as groovy, mixing a jazz chorus with a strong pop-infusion that calls to mind, among other artists, Justin Timberlake. If that sounds like a mess, you’ll just have to trust me that it works better than you’d think. Fantastically in fact, and the song switches gears again for an outrageously funky metal bridge section.
Sideways Bird is arguably the EP’s most straightforward djent/prog song, and is filled with crunchy riffs that will have you banging your head along. The jazz infusion remains at the forefront though, particularly in the song’s mid-section which is very reminiscent of Thank You Scientist (this is the case in a few spots on the EP) but with its own unique flavour. The song also has a very catchy and anthemic chorus.
Give Gravity a Choice is the EP’s ballad, if you can call it that. It provides a welcome change of pace from the energy and bombast of the songs preceding it. To suggest that this is its only function, though, would be to do it a disservice. It is emotional, carefully developed, and demonstrates the range of styles that the band can nail. It’s also a great showcase for vocalist Sam Gitiban’s softer side, as he puts in a fantastically tender performance in contrast with the power and energy he displays in the EP’s other songs.
The last full song, White Phoenix, is another funk-metal tune that is relentless in its energy and contagious in its absurd sense of fun. Again, it is a perfect blend of djent riffs and jazz motifs, often at the same time, with yet another chorus full of good hooks. Towards the end of the song, it shifts gear to provide a grand ending that leads into the last track Sleep, which introduces a somber theme on strings before closing the EP much as it began.
All in all, Novallo II blew me away from the very first listen, and subsequent listens just solidified that initial opinion. The music is fresh, exciting, and a genuine fusion of different styles and genres that is pulled off seamlessly. Performances are superb – individual performances are spot on, and the band is tight as a unit. And the production is ideal for the style of music: punchy and energetic, with room for quiet moments. It may be short, but it’s the sort of EP I can play multiple times in a row. I really cannot wait to see what this band does next.