Novallo II: Portrait and Review

There’s a group of musicians I must acknowledge, for they’ve had my attention for some time and I find myself impressed by their efforts over and over again. The sheer talent to be heard from Novallo is nothing short of my unfair expectations, and their second release has something for everyone.

I’ll admit to a bit of a bias here, as I’ve known these guys for well over a decade. I met the individuals that make up Novallo over the course of my high school experience, and their continuation is something I deeply appreciate. But my bias is of no extended value; the material speaks for itself.

Brandon Johnson played guitar in my basement every Friday during the early years of our musical journey. More than that, he always brought a positive attitude to a place that was wrought with teen angst. Consistently the one to turn a dull moment into a party, Brandon had an endless personality that was supplied for the benefit of those around him. He’s pretty goofy, but in truth he’s got nothing on Salvatore.

Nicholas Salvatore is the only drummer I’ve ever convinced to haul his kit to my place for some duel drummer action. Some of it was messy, other moments memorable. He’s a top-quality metal drummer with an ear for funk. Aside from music he’s nothing, if not fun. He is the goof of the band, and it’s been a pleasure to watch him behind the kit all these years.

I first met Gino in an art class. When he took up the guitar I would hear him playing familiar riffs by System of a Down in some concrete basement setting. He had solid chops for the developing beginner, and these initial moments surfaced long before I would come to recognize the drive behind any potential thing to which Gino would set his mind. Never the one to settle on a singular endeavor Gino went to college for visual art/media (explaining one half of Novallo’s unique visual appeal), and buried himself into the obsessive hobby audio production. He’s truly the brains behind the operation, and his many hats have left him sought after by a multitude of artists seeking his production expertise, as he’s turned the hobby into his career.

As for Sam Gitiban, he was the dangerously quiet one. While the other three were high school peers they sought a vocalist on Craigslist, risking their lives in doing so. At the time Sam was majoring in art at Ohio State (the second half of their visual arts department), and while he’s the most reserved of the band (in a social setting), his vocals bring a sound to the music that stands out on the new EP. I’m relieved that this social experiment has resulted in their partnership, but I’m still not convinced he won’t up and kill the lot of ‘em.

When they first appeared Novallo did little more than ‘pay-to-play’ gigs, where they unloaded tickets to personal friends. Shows at the Newport were good for the ego, but did little else to generate a sense of belonging to a musical community. The early sound reflected their metal based influences of the time, but included a Middle Eastern flare that made the material stand out. It wouldn’t be until Gino took to experimenting with audio production that the vision for the band shifted to a more technical focus.

While Gino developed into an audio engineer of reputable merit, new material accumulated for a professional debut release. The initial EP was an attempt to do what most bands do on their first professional-level go-round: showcase their talents within the given parameters in an attempt to capstone the genre. And it was a fantastic collection of songs, but with time comes reflection and the desire to do other things. They’ve been thirsty to do something unique, and they required new methods of getting to the bottom of their well.

This is where the new EP comes into play. With three years between this release and the first EP, Gino has only advanced on the production side of things, and the band has progressed in both songwriting and tastefully deviating from the confines of genre. Novallo II still comes off as something I’d associate with metal and what some people call djent (is ‘djent’ still the word being used for technical metal?), but the means by which they digress from the norm is extraordinary. One major difference between this and the first EP is the lack of growl style screaming, making the music accessible to a wider audience. Guitar production surfaces as what I’m assuming to be Gino’s specialty, as the entirety of the EP substitutes synthesizers for guitars effects, and the primary rhythm guitar sounds go back and forth between a sharp biting metal tone, and a sound that represents the stabbing noise of EDM. There are swing, jazz, and pop segments that are downright danceable. If you’re considering some unique new music, I can’t do enough to adequately recommend Novallo II.

Novallo on Bandcamp

WAKE

The album opens with an intro track where I’m being lectured by a version of the Stephen Hawking voice that’s layered with a distortion. I believe the sound to have originated in nightmares. This takes place within some sort of ambient tunnel/vacuum soundscape. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be the fragments of a dream before awakening, but the choir of Sam’s vocals that come in at the end feels like opening my eyes to the following expedition.

BETTY PHAGE (Goes to Bronxton)

A jumpy hybrid of metal and swing is done in the most tasteful manner I’ve heard since Marilyn Manson’s Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz-Ziggety-Zagg, but with a greater emphasis on exploring the elements of swing. Yet the bridge nearing the second half of the track is of some of the hardest metal on the EP.

1 AM

Opens with that EDM guitar sound as though it were coming through an AM radio. Breaks into a straightforward segment that is held up by a sequenced undertone. Sam plays with rhyming vocal patterns that make me believe he’s from a different time before the track gives way to my favorite chorus on the EP. I feel the genuine groove of a perfect pop song, yet the chorus doesn’t compromise in bringing you this moment. I’d argue that the chorus offers the highest energy moment on the track, and that stands in the face of the heavy EDM sounding guitars of the bridge.

SIDEWAYS BIRD

What a kind way of wording what I’m interpreting to mean dead woman. This song isn’t new, as an official music video for this track was released shortly after the first EP in 2012. It’s probably one of the most solid tracks regarding adherence to genre expectations. It stands as a solid tech metal song in spite of the synth lead (actually played on guitars) that runs on and off throughout.

GIVE GRAVITY A CHOICE

This song contains my favorite verse on the EP. The mellow guitars aren’t trying to be overly technical here, and it makes for an atmospheric experience that conveys a welcomed change of pace for the rhythm section. The bridge in the second half of the song brings the distortion, but maintains the integrity of the piece. In terms of production and songwriting, I’m conflicted in declaring a favorite song between this track and 1 AM.

WHITE PHOENIX

Opens with an 8-bit riff that reminds me of a jumpier rendition of the intro to I Am. It’s as though I’m playing Zelda on speed, except I’m not waiting to die. Then the 8-bit morphs into the EDM style guitars as the rest of the band jumps in on a song that’s competing with ‘Sideways Bird’ for the title of heaviest song on the EP. The piano bridge takes the song in a calmer direction that allows for the most playful bass segment on the EP, before launching into an aggressive final stretch.

SLEEP

An orchestral string arrangement steps into the aftermath of White Phoenix in such a way as to have you believe this sleep will be peaceful. No such luck, as a distorted electronic noise surfaces to establish an uneasy atmosphere. This unsettling return to the vacuum of sleep is met with a fragmented clip of the ghostly Stephen Hawking voice. Then it all cuts off.

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