Thursday, 21 August 2014

Avant Garde Thursday: Narrow House

Bloodstock came, and Bloodstock went, and while we at Femetalism are thoroughly bathed in the metal atmosphere it brings, we did neglect a few things. I know Thursdays can suck without metal to lift the spirits, and leaving you high and dry was a terrible thing to do, so this week we're back with a bit of funeral doom to sort out the doldrums. Or are we?

Funeral doom in itself is all well and good, but we like something a bit more unusual. This week I've managed to find a band who encapsulate all the best bits of funeral doom while also being completely off the wall. If there were a jazz version of doom metal, Narrow House would be it.

Formed in Kiev in 2008 under the name Funestum, they proclaim to be the Ukraine's first ever funeral doom band featuring five musicians and a handful of songs about solitude, death and self-destruction. Unfortunately over half the band left after only a year and Funestum was no more.

Thankfully founding members Yegor "Bewitched" Ostapenko and Katya Romanova reformed as Narrow House, bringing two others along with them. Not ones to hang about, they launched straight into their musical career with a full length album.

Narrow House's first album, A Key To Panngrieb, came out in 2012. Featuring song titles and lyrics entirely in Russian, I have referred to translations provided by the band. The themes seem to follow the those laid down by Funestum. Despair, false idols, loneliness all feature along with a lonesome sounding cello.

Weighing in at 45 minutes despite only being four tracks long, it's not an easy listen. Engaging, yes, but not easy. Album opener Последнее Пристанище (Last Refuge) takes its time, building slowly over its 14 minutes. Using a combination of keyboars, cello and viola the sound is sombre, yet not what you may expect from funeral doom. The orchestral style adds atmosphere and the haunting strings add a heart wrenching sadness.

The remaining tracks, Псевдорятунок (Pseudo-salvation), Стеклянный Бог (The Vitreous God) and Под Маской Этой (Beneath This Face) continue what the opener started, not shifting too much and, indeed, making for what seems like a single 45 minute experience.

After the relative success of A Key To Panngrieb, Narrow House set out to write their second album. Released a mere two years after the first, Thanathonaut takes the band in a somewhat ... alternative direction. Featuring some of the features of the first album (specifically the cello), a whole raft of new instruments and a whole new style was brought in. No longer producing funeral doom, but clearly something derived from it, Thanathonaut (meaning "navigator of death") takes an almost jazz approach to funeral doom.

The overall theme of the album seems to be nuclear war, and the mood of the album is certainly more lively than the first outing. Featuring ten tracks in only 40 minutes, the average track time is much reduced, and the tempo is much increased.

One thing that will immediately stand out from the new album is the new instrumentation brought in for it. The most noticable is the saxophone that provides most the melody, and the double bass and cello that together provide the soul shaking depths the music dives to. Sampled speeches and a choir also bring a whole new atmosphere to the album. If this is doom, it doesn't sound like it. And yet, somehow, it retains the identity of the first album.

As the album progresses through tracks such as "Furious Thoughts of Tranquility", "The Midwife of Sorrows" and "A Sad Scream Of Silver" the driving bassline of the string section combines with the saxophone brings to mind a version of Gerry Rafferty residing in the underworld. While many fans of funeral doom will be utterly put off by this mixing of styles, the progressive or avant garde metal lovers will find lots to enjoy.

There is apparently a cover of a Virgin Black song (a symphonic gothic metal band from Australia), but I'm not sure which one it is. I assume it's the last song, Возрождение. It's certainly the most symphonic gothic song on the album, although still with the new Narrow House sound.

Narrow House have produced a number of documentary videos available on their website to document their thought processes throughout the recording of Thanathonaut. It sounds like they're keen on experimentation, so it will be interesting to see if the band goes back to its funeral doom ways or carries on up this path of new and unusual things. Time will tell!


Originally posted by Craig Andrews on Femetalism.