If there is anything that instantly characterizes prog rockers Novallo, it’s that they stay as far away as possible from the ever-stifling neat box. Having debuted Novallo I in 2012, the Columbus, Ohio quintet amassed a sizable following by showcasing their rather stark spectrum of influences. Their unsigned status has not deterred them. In fact, the band’s ticket to recognition came at Rock on the Range fest, where they shared the bill with veterans Judas Priest, Slipknot and Godsmack.
After three solid years of sustained anticipation, the band delivers again with Novallo II, an effort competently surpassing the impact of their debut. There is a greater spectacle of fantasy-driven arrangements and lyrical themes. The bass grooves have also become a prominent fixture emitting a combined funk/grunge aesthetic. As usual, the band’s utilization of pop, alternative and djent metal is scrupulously fine-tuned into a prog rock foundation. Perhaps the EP’s immediate strength is its ability to sound authentically big. There’s no grandiosity or forceful emphasis on any of its stylistic elements. And although its tracks still fall on the short side for progressive standards, the band’s generally inviting and incredibly creative energies make the experience totally worth it.
The first full track on the EP, “Betty Phage Goes to Bronxton,” feels like the soundtrack to a throwback side-scrolling beat-em-up game. Accordingly, vocalist Sam Gitiban references plentiful childhood nostalgia in both subtle and explicit mannerisms. This imagery is then used to convey a darker tone, centering on the loss of innocence and a subsequent need to defend against evil. Once such skills have been mastered, those around us begin to confide in our abilities to protect them at any cost. That level of determination is carried over into the following track, “1 AM,” which seems to be the fan favorite. Not only is it fun to listen to, but it exudes a decent radio potential provided by its hooks and accessible structure. I appreciated how Gitiban highlights tough life obstacles—particularly, sleepless nights and draining nightmares—with a perspective of clarity and even appreciation. His vocals blend seamlessly into the instrumentation, aptly demonstrating his production skills. With enough exposure, this track will surely be the hit. “Sideways Bird” succeeds in conveying a tone of uncertainty, not only by the title itself, but in its lyrical context—featuring an interchangeable “oblique style/smile”—and by equally wandering instrumentation. I liked how the theme was especially emphasized in the last verse (Simplify your fun/Progress is a drug/Safer on the run/Crucify your love). It is by far the heaviest track, consisting of dominant djent riffs even while maintaining bright pop harmonies.
Toward the latter part of the album, “Give Gravity a Choice” dials down on the lightheartedness, based on its mournful chord progressions and bleak yet powerful delivery. Gitiban’s stationary range actually proves most effective here as the initial half features exclusively clean, reverberated guitars. In turn, they assist in accentuating his now straight-ahead hard rock vocal tone. The heaviness kicks in at about the about the 2:50 mark, giving him free rein to exhibit an emotive grit. Again, he smartly addresses the notion of a limbo state being essential in moving toward progress (“Here, the only way is north/Such an endless road to take when you’re out of time”). On the final track, White Phoenix, the nostalgia factor returns via an 8-bit rendering of the guitar melody to come. At that moment, the guitars come charging full force, effectively bringing out both worlds of childhood innocence and ultimate maturity. The song’s conventional power chord-driven chorus works just as well as the band’s intricate arrangements. In turn, it signifies a time when lessons are learned and growth is achieved, the next step being to blossom and utilize the true extent of that potential.
Overall, Novallo II is the band’s ambitious venture in solidifying their blend of prog metal for a wide audience. Every song suffices in packing ample virtuosity, as well as a cleverly depicted view of determination, excess, and creative drought. It has resonated with the kind of fan base needed for the band’s longevity, as they have gone strong for nearly a decade. Should all go well with the EP, it will hopefully earn them a signing to highlight the New Year.