The Night Watch – An Embarrassment of Riches (self-released, 15 November 2019)
Hey, everybody. It’s time to check in on instrumental quartet The Night Watch, whose members include violinist Evan Runge and guitarist Nathanael Larochette (both of whom are also part of the neo-folk trio Musk Ox, featured here), plus Matthew Cowan on bass and Daniel Mollema on drums/percussion.
As you may recall, we wrote about Boundaries, the thirty-plus-minute piece of music that was their second album (here), when it was released back in 2016.
Anyway, that same cast of characters is back (with the drummer sometimes hitting the ebonies and ivories as well, this time around) with a third full-length, just released last month: An Embarrassment of Riches. Still essentially an instrumental venture, although this one does occasionally feature some choral vocals — credited to all four instrumentalists plus a host of guests, this record is sequenced a little more traditionally than its predecessor, in that it’s broken into several individual tracks rather than a single album-length composition.
Despite what you may be expecting from a band featuring a violinist and someone chiefly known as a classical guitarist (besides the previously-mentioned Musk Ox, Larochette has lent his talents to releases by Agalloch, among others, as well as his own solo record which we talked about at the same time as the last one from Night Watch), An Embarrassment of Riches would probably be most accurately catalogued as an example of progressive metal.
And even more specifically, you could classify this as highly conceptual progressive metal, as the album is presented in what is essentially a narrative format. In eleven-minute opener “Land Ho!” we join our protagonists as they while away the time on some sort of seaward voyage: the violin leads an upbeat, baroque-style shanty; before long the band bursts into significantly heavier, electrified material — occasionally you might even call it bombastic. With an exclamation of its titular phrase, the piece concludes, transitioning to a more terrestrial setting for the rest of the story.
That setting seems to be some sort of remote island; each of the remaining tracks is another chapter in the tale of the heroes working their way further inward and upward — and of their encounters with the local inhabitants, much like Gulliver’s interactions with the Brobdingnagians, or the experiences of Odysseus with the Lotus Eaters.
Starting with the darker-toned “Mendoza,” which centers around some rather complex timing in the interplay between the guitar and drums and piano; sometimes the violin part emerges on top, sometimes the guitar steps forward, and just as often the two will complement each other and share the spotlight — while evolving into some very heavy riffs later. That’s pretty much par for the course: as befits an excursion over unfamiliar, mountainous terrain, the album regularly shifts from calmer and mellower valleys into triumphal peaks.
In between those extremes, we are treated to glimpses of life on the island: including the folksy “Dance of the Mountain People” with its occasional bouncy percussion, to the more heavily-syncopated “Shamaniac” which is very drumbeat-driven and tribal-sounding. And finally, with the serene, piano-based “Currents” (by far the shortest of the album’s songs at a mere four minutes), we bid our island adventure adieu.
An Embarrassment of Riches is currently available to download or stream, but there have been rumors of a physical manifestation yet to come…
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