Roman Norfleet “Death’s Door”

Within about 15 seconds of hitting play on Death’s Door, I was all in. Portland’s Roman Norfleet channels countless energy fields and spins them into a psychic-spiritual sonic journey of cavernous depths and wide-eyed enthusiasm. The 46 seconds of opener “Fear” are a wormhole into his singular world vision with tremolo strings, skittering percussive layers, purifying saxophone skree, and his enthusiastic incantations. Once that door is open, there’s no going back.

Like the incredible cover of Death’s Door (by Robert Mainka), these soundscapes are lush and engaging. Filled with magic realities, Norfleet embraces the transportive capabilities of sound to send listeners into unknown, unimaginable spaces where spirits dance with cosmic rhythms and possibility runs rampant. The title track bounds forward buoyed by rolling basslines and lilting saxophone melodies laying the perfect foundation for Norfleet to conjure, “Rebirth is on the way!” The voices move across the spatial line, whispers, cries, and invocations jumping over flaming horn solos coalescing into an ecstatic shrine. 

“Ancestors” drift on glistening mbira clouds and otherworldly drones, somehow feeling simultaneously heavy and weightless while “Black Oceans” surfs into the abyss headfirst, enamored by the jilted landscape and ambient oceanic essences. Norfleet weaves an expansive timbral web with heavily-processed sonic waves crashing into the digital shore on top of mesmerizing flute excursions and willowy harmonics. There’s an aquatic prism aspect in the shifting tonal sequences, as though we’re trapped in some kind of submerged liminal space, meandering across the edges for all eternity. 

Emotive saxophone spells are a common denominator on so much of Death’s Door. “Ancestors” harnesses those aural flickers into a butterfly-effect spaceship to rewrite past oversights. “March of the Spirits” blasts mountains into space with progressive rhythms and angular keyboard riffs while effervescent sax solos tie knots in between each aural slab. He cools things down on “Space Folks,” but there’s a feeling throughout that keeps pushing us forward as it rides the bouncing rhythm and hypnotic bassline into the distance.

As a small string ensemble breathes slowly, floating forward toward a beckoning light on “Reincarnation,” a new era opens. Roman Norfleet’s Death’s Door is stellar in every way, on every level. His musicianship, his songwriting, but most of all his spirit are all illuminating, generous forces and when it comes together in these final, tranquil moments of “Reincarnation,” the world begins to feel better and all things seem possible. Death’s Door is sensational.

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