There’s an abundance of talent responsible for what’s going on with album number two from Ottawa, Ontario’s The Night Watch, but a larger portion of the spotlight will be thrown toward the individual responsible for the guitars, Nathanael Larochette, simply because he’s been a pretty busy man, and his diverse work deserves some added attention.
If the name is not immediately familiar, the quickest avenue to acquaintance is likely this: He provided the lovely acoustic interludes heard throughout Agalloch’s The Serpent & The Sphere back in 2014. Agalloch was obviously pretty adept at plaintively molesting the senses on their own, but Nathanael’s touch elevated the record’s overall elegance to new heights.
During that same year, Larochette also released an absolute gem of an album called Woodfall through his extremely un-metal but nevertheless EPIC chamber ensemble, Musk Ox, which delicately blended cello, violin and classical guitar into a pensive jewel perfectly suited for schmaltzingly gazing out windows, surveying sweeping landscapes, or any activity involving wistful and lordly feelings.
The Musk Ox segue is particularly relevant because the person responsible for that endeavor’s violin work, Evan Runge, also puts bow to string for The Night Watch, and his work on Boundaries is absolutely top-shelf front to back. In truth, everyone’s performance in this band is exceptional, but it’s the violin that anchors a lyrical element to these entirely instrumental melodies, so Runge’s role is vital.
Trying to describe the overall scope of The Night Watch is a bit tricky. Outside of the aforementioned Agalloch guest spot, it’s clearly the most metal sounding project with Nathanael’s name attached to it, but it’s apparently not metal enough to warrant a Metal-Archives listing (yet). A straightforward tag such as “progressive chamber metal” is likely the most accurate descriptor, though, as Boundaries chief elements come across like a smooth mingling between the graceful adornment of Musk Ox alongside the sludgy, drifting and adventurous swing of a heavy band like Grayceon. In fact, if a vocal element ever became linked to this undertaking, an individual who quickly springs to mind as an ideal fit would be Jackie Perez Gratz. Call it a “Bay Area” sense of heaviness, I suppose.
One of the dominant strengths attached to this sprawling 36-minute tune is how seamlessly the four musicians bend the lengthy trip from heavy to soft and dark to light with a deft precision in the playing that never feels overly flamboyant or pompous. The way the muscled swagger that culminates at the 7-minute mark leans swiftly into a quieter moment via Daniel Mollema’s tacitly rumbling drums, for example. Or the ensuing transition to an even lighter measure with gently strummed acoustic guitar and a light military snare that’s suddenly BOMBED with a crash at 10:30 that quickly evolves into some of the most aggressive posturing on the album – fitting illustrations of the impeccable flow between contrasting emotions that dive and swell throughout this epic ride.
Even when Boundaries is in it’s most tranquil state – from around 24:00 to 31:00 – there’s still enough going on to ensure the listener’s attention never fully strays. Sparse notes still manage to carry significant weight when they’re delivered with flair such as this.
And once the dust has settled and you’ve fully given yourself over to the allure that seems uniformly attached to Larochette’s name, there remains one more bit of righteousness to uncover for 2016. On July 29th, a two-disc set of solo material called Earth and Sky will be released that’s equally necessary for those who enjoy wistful, elegant INFP sophistication. Disc one, Earth, is fairly reminiscent of the neo-folk interludes penned for The Serpent & The Sphere, with 37 minutes of solo classical guitar that’s flush with a pensive and deceptively uncomplicated design that could mellow a wolverine with impacted molars into a purring lap cat.
The 40 minute flip side, Sky, is aptly named and unveils Larochette’s knack for drifting, notably uplifting ambience that comes across like a more post-driven Eluvium. Generous ebow and piano abound, and when paired with the contrasting yet similarly colored Earth, you get a full hour and twenty minutes of harmony that does a wonderful job of mirroring the mollifying details depicted on the cover artwork.
Metal’s unique capacity to allow fans an avenue to embody and regularly vent the ugly, destructive side of humankind is invaluable, but this genre also acknowledges and embraces grace and beauty, and it’s done so since day one. Humans need beauty in life; to deny yourself that luxury will leave you 100% fucked. Fortunately, despite living amidst exceedingly dark times, it’s never been easier to explore elegance and beauty through music in order to give a troubled mind respite, and remembering the name Nathanael Larochette and investing in his varied endeavors will help achieve that end, emphatically. He’s like a czar of sophisticated and elegant play, and he often choses to surround himself with musicians who are equally capable of that mission.
My recommendation: Spend some time to get to know each of Nathanael Larochette’s works. Revel in beauty while there’s still something beautiful left in the world worth reveling in.