Review Summary: The Night Watch is a dark, eccentric, and off-the-wall adventure that places the listener directly into the front seat of an emotional rollercoaster; complete with all the twists, turns, and thrills one would expect from such an exciting ride.
When it comes to making music, it is relatively easy to stick to one genre and follow all of its well-established principles. For that reason, I have always had a profound respect for Ulver
, Mr. Bungle
, maudlin of the Well
, and other bands that play whatever they damn well please without ever sticking to one specific genre. With their self-titled debut, instrumental outfit The Night Watch have truly taken this concept to the extreme. Although impeccable instrumentation and ambitious songwriting were perhaps to be expected, given that the The Night Watch is a side project of Musk Ox
members Nathanael Larochette and Evan Runge, the amount of musical eclecticism on their debut LP is nothing short of staggering. From black metal to jazz, The Night Watch have embarked on a quest to craft their own, one-of-a-kind sound from seamlessly combining a multitude of different genres. Although imperfect, the album nonetheless succeeds at being an ingenious exercise in musical experimentation.
The way in which The Night Watch
unfolds is not too dissimilar from a movie; specifically a blockbuster action/romance flick. Though not necessarily a concept album in nature, each song further advances the album’s narrative-like structure by constantly shifting its sound to convey different emotions. However, unlike Musk Ox, which was mostly rooted in the genre of neofolk, the album’s sound and overall tone changes itself so often that each moment is enticingly unpredictable. The acoustic guitar at the start of “In the Beginning” may open the album softly, but is quickly overtaken by thundering drumbeats and heavy riffage. A soothing violin countermelody is introduced shortly after, and from then on the track continuously switches back and forth from lighthearted folk music to violent thrash. Each track that follows has a completely unique and unpredictable structure; with dark, jazzy arrangements such as “The Great Escape” and “Don’t Creep” recalling the likes of James Bond movies, and other songs such as “The Minstrel and the King” and “Apocalypse Beach” having a more romantic, neoclassic focus. Standout track “War Whales” serves as a testament to the band’s incredibly creativity songwriting. “War Whales” is an epic, sprawling soundscape, complete with intense doom metal riffs and mournful violin melodies. The dark atmosphere of the song is full of rage and underlying sadness, making the uplifting acoustic passages scattered throughout seem the all the more intense. Like the rest of The Night Watch
, “War Whales” grabs the listener’s attention and refuses to ever let it go with dynamic, cinematic soundscapes.
Although The Night Watch’s ambitious experimentation serves them quite well for the most part, the occurrence of mid-song genre changes has a tendency to seem contrived. This isn’t to say that the album ever loses grasp of its overall vision; merely, the transitions between the different styles of music often cause a song to seem momentarily unfocused. With that being said, however, the occasionally unnecessary experimentation rarely ever detracts from the music at hand, due largely in part to the band’s, as previously stated, superb instrumentation. While every band member puts forth a commendable effort on The Night Watch
, Runge’s violin playing is particularly impressive. Throughout the album, the violin melodies are always in the forefront, gracefully weaving their way through the darkest of riffs in order to tell its own story. Most interesting of all, the stories told and emotions conveyed by the violin are always seemingly different than that of the other instruments, but never for a moment does the violin seem unfitting with the rest of the song. In a more conventional band, vocals would likely replace the violin’s role of standing above all else, harmonizing with each melody and allowing certain motifs to carry over from song-to-song.
Perhaps the strangest and most notable quality about The Night Watch
is how accessible the release is as a whole. For an album with so much variety and manic experimentation, The Night Watch
always remains a thoroughly enjoyable album that should prove to be appealing to every musical demographic. While its sound is all of its own, there is a certain familiarity at the heart of each song. The same could be said for Musk Ox’s newest release, Woodfall
, but in an entirely different way. Woodfall
was focused, elegant, and although quite ambitious, rather straightforward in its songwriting. The Night Watch
, on the other hand, is a dark, eccentric, and off-the-wall adventure that places the listener directly into the front seat of an emotional roller coaster; complete with all the twists, turns, and thrills one would expect from such an exciting ride. And in the end, as long as your seat belt is buckled and both your hands and feet remain inside the vehicle at all times, it’s a ride that is so unforgettable and rewarding that will you find yourself getting back in line over and over again.