Album review: The Night Watch - An Embarrassment of Riches (2019)
The progressive instrumental album An Embarrassment of Riches from Canadians THE NIGHT WATCH offers exactly what the title promises: an extensive work that runs for 72 minutes, with an astounding variety of styles in the various tracks that encompass genres like rock, folk, classical, jazz and metal (and probably a couple more that were lost to me) that together manage to create an experience that I’d define almost more cinematographic than musical: I genuinely saw the world portrayed by the nice cover art by Alice Duke and the titles of the tracks, full of sea journeys and pirates and adventures.
The staggering amount of styles of this album makes difficult to point out clear references: while listening I was in turn reminded of the dreamy and melancholic Journey OST by Austin Wintory, or some of Yuki Kajiura’s more rock passages, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite, the funny The Secret of Monkey Island OST, some of the older works by OPETH or IN FLAMES and the relentless sonic assault that characterize many black metal bands. All these elements are accurately woven together to create a picture at times intense (like in Mendoza) and at times wistful (like some passages of Land Ho! or Currents) or even funny (like in Dance of the Mountain People.)
The band revealed that this album was seven years in the making, and I’m not surprised by that. Almost all the tracks are extremely varied, smoothly switching moods and styles in their course, and you can feel the care and thought that went behind every passage: it should not be easy to go from a black metal riff to a jazzy break followed by a classical passage but they manage to do so without ever making it feel forced.
The quality of the composition is impressive, with multilayered passages of great complexity alternating with others almost minimalistic or deceptively simple, and reflects the level of skill of the musicians.
Most of the leading parts are in the hands of the talented violinist Evan Runge, who does an admirable job in making you think that there’s no need to have a singer to express a meaning and help mellow out a little some of the harsher moments; Daniel Mollema (drums) and Matthew Cowan (fretless bass) offer a really solid rhythm section, transitioning easily between styles and sometimes taking centre stage with class. I was particularly impressed by Nathanael Larochette: he’s an accomplished guitar player, at home in all the various styles of the album, but contrary to most guitar players he didn’t force a single personal tone to the tracks but adapted it to the mood he wanted to give to the songs and this added to the great variety of the album.
Production-wise the album is really good, and I want to commend in particular the dynamic range of the tracks: it’s almost as good as what you can find in classical music, with the music at times almost reduced to a whisper and then hitting you like a mallet. This level of variation is something that is, apart for some notable exceptions, absent in modern music.
The only (little) gripe I have with this work are that a couple of the tracks felt a little too dragged out and would have been more effective if they had less repetition of the riffs; from a ‘personal taste’ point of view I also usually don’t like the black metal wall of sound style: on this album it was used only at times to underline some intense moments but I found it a little hard to digest. I endured and I was rewarded, because the more I listened to these tracks the more I enjoyed them.
Considering the vast array of styles encompassed by this album, I feel it would appeal to many listeners with disparate tastes: some might find it difficult to relate to at first, depending on how they feel about some of the genres represented in the tracks, but I think that if they manage to relate with the effort and the passion that shines through the compositions they can learn to love it like I did.
An Embarrassment of Riches is released on November 15th 2019
An Embarrassment of Riches (cover art by Alice Duke)