Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.
When I caught wind of November, a band from Sweden who released their debut record, En ny tid är här…, in 1970 and, so the lore goes, enjoyed playing as fast as they could, well, I had to investigate. The results were a bit confounding, the trio employing ill-advised flute, prog leanings, tons of blues and occasional glimpses of killer early hard rock riffing.
There’s historical significance here, as the trio have been referred to as the first Swedish hard rock/heavy metal group and were part of the anti-commercial progg movement (yes, “progg”), and also sung in Swedish. But does it all add up to something we need to be listening to in 2020? Read on as we dive into every song on this album to find out what exactly is going on here.
Man, opener “Mount Everest” disappoints big time; I was expecting proto-speed metal from what I had read about the band’s love of playing fast, but this rote blues rock limps out of the gate, the duelling guitars coming in for a bit of heaviness, although the flute negates that pretty fast. When the trio are hitting hard with that main riff, it’s pretty damn good, but the song as a whole is too bluesy to really be worth it. But make a note: November’s strength is in those big, simple, hard rock riffs that often burst out of nowhere.
“En Annan Värld” is next, and there’s the tempo I was hoping for, the band suddenly racing to the finish line, although not necessarily ramping up the heaviness factor, just the BPMs. It works, the song a frantic, crazed, brisk and economic rocker that gets weird as it goes on, the band laying down some stoned-out prog-lite vibes while never losing the speed. Approved.
“Lek Att Du Är Barn Igen” is a pretty miserable six minutes of blues balladeering, with that blasted flute making an appearance to really hammer home the point that, hey, this isn’t heavy. Total momentum-killer here, even if, like on “Mount Everest,” when they lay down that huge Zeppelin riff, the blues is forgiven.
“Sekunder (Förvandlas Till År)” is next, and beyond the song title reminding me I need to listen to Nasum more often, this one rocks hard, the band suddenly laying down a near-Lizzy riff to die for. This one is worth investing some time into, the band going for it here, and crafing something heavy enough and certainly enjoyable enough.
Then “En Enkel Sång Om Dej” comes along and screws it up with more blues structures; it’s actually really rockin’ for blues-rock, but, man, does blues rock ever put me to sleep. Mercifully short at 2:41, as the side B opener it really announces once and for all that we’ve been duped into listening to what is primarily a blues-rock album.
The impossibly named “Varje Gång Jag Ser Dej Känns Det Lika Skönt” goes even deeper into blues, going slower and, sure, bluesier, this journey deep into side B of the original vinyl not working out incredibly well, even if I gotta be honest and say that there’s a bit of crashing and bashing here the proto-metal fan might want to seek out, but it comes in fits and then is gone like the cold November wind, or rain, or something. This song is soulful, that I can’t deny, but it’s also putting me to sleep, that I can’t deny.
“Gröna Blad” gets weird, the band again suddenly slamming back some strong ’70s Swedish coffee and gettin’ frantic with this quick rocker that kinda races past but also kinda rules. Things are looking up here, and the band is beginning a shocking deep-album recovery, this tune kicking it off wonderfully.
“Åttonde” also kinda rules—c’mon, November, why you pace the album like this? This one is a quirky, faster rocker with some weird, sideways prog riffing and vocals that double as a pop earworm. We’re dealing with an unexpected late-album spree of winners here. I’m awake, and I’m on the edge of my seat. Let’s do this.
“Ta Ett Steg In I Sagans Land,” amazingly, keeps that flow going, the band again hitting hard like Zep but with a contained-prog delivery (especially in that drumming; dude sounds like he’s just ready to absolutely let loose). The main riff is total gold, and the lead work is classy, the band laying down three of their best songs here way late in the album. Love the forward momentum of this rocker.
“Balett Blues” ends it all off with 1:17 of, actually, quite tasteful and enjoyable piano tinkling and casual conversation that makes me feel like I’m drinking a beer with Billy Joel and one very weird Swedish band. Then they bust into some real traditional blues and, man, I’m done.
End result of all this is one very confusing proto-metal exploration, leaving me fully disappointed that I didn’t find a band playing at extreme speeds but happy to find a band breaking through the blues that so obviously formed the basis of their musical worldview. I like it when they get weird, love it when they get fast and, man, really love some of those huge, near-southern rocking riffs the band lays down, even if they are nowhere near as heavy as some of the other bands we’ve covered in this column.
November’s En ny tid är här… – The Decibel breakdown:
Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: It’s gonna help get you through the blues songs.
Heaviness factor: I can’t really convincingly make an argument that this is proto-metal, despite the “they played as fast as they could” lore surrounding this band. Not heavy.
Obscura Triviuma: Before they were November, they were Train, featuring guitarist Snowy White, who went on to play with Pink Floyd, Roger Waters and, most relevant to us, Thin Lizzy.
Other albums: Two others and one live album.
Related bands: Train, Bash, Nature, Energy, Saga.
Alright, fine, if you must: Whatever wakes you up enough to get you through half an album of blues rock.