By Jonathan Smith
The Night Watch‘s debut album has been a difficult one for me to review. These days I’m tending towards easily digestible and clear-cut sub-genre metal, which this record is certainly not. This group of Ottawa-based musicians (which includes Nathanaël Larochette from neo-folk act Musk Ox) presents a complicated and diverse palette. It wasn’t until after several listens that I was able to form concrete opinions on what I was hearing. The Night Watch draw their sound from sources as diverse as progressive rock to black metal, jazz and post-rock. As a result this album is not a breezy, easily classifiable summer listen. This isn’t to say that The Night Watch is jarring or intense. Their album is one that plays well with others, and probably sounds great coming out of your open windows on a hot day. This first release, however, demands a lot from you. What you get out of it is largely dependent on what you put into it.
In the aptly named first track “In The Beginning,” The Night Watch provide a somewhat detailed blueprint for how things are going to play out. While metallic power chords and heavy drums make an appearance, the genre’s characteristic lead guitar has been replaced by a violin. The violin not only performs the role of lead guitar, at times it also has a wailing effect that makes the album’s lack of actual vocals all the more significant. Words are not needed here. Using the song titles as their cheat sheets, the instruments themselves spin the material from which you can craft your own tales.
The first two tracks start you out slow, drawing you into the musically-mixed sound The Night Watch have planned. “Don’t Creep,” the third track, is where the full extent of the band’s variety becomes apparent. The majority of “Courts of the East” has a very jazzy, almost swinging flow to it at times. It’s in the last minute that the first major use of blast beats appears and gives the track some additional heft. After your ears have been thoroughly warmed up, then you’re ready for the album’s last two tracks, “War Whales” and “Apocalyptic Beach.” Both tracks are as long as the rest of the album combined, and it’s within them that you can begin to hear the doom and black metal influences being brought to bear. These sub-genre elements are subdued, never overwhelming or cancelling out the vibe that has been crafted up to that point, but they do definitely lead to the record having a heavier back half.
The Night Watch have released a challenging debut, one which initially did not work for me. Though not all the tracks stand out, it’s with repeated listens that it becomes apparent to me that the album is an exciting piece of avant-garde metal/post-rock/insert label here. Rather than approaching The Night Watch with particular expectations, give the album a listen or two (or four) and pay attention to what it has to offer. Its rewards increase with each play.