Bad Moon Man (2014)
The experimental doom of Ukraine’s Narrow House is visceral and searing, cutting open your skull and exposing your brain to the ice-cold Kiev air. It’s released by Bad Moon Man, a sub-label of Solitude Productions, so quality comes guaranteed.
Featuring live saxophone, cello and double bass – in addition to some more traditional doom weaponry, the kind that requires massive amplifiers – ‘Thanathonaut’ is a unique and intriguing offering from former funeral doom exponents who have decided to explore more uplifting styles and a more grandiose delivery.
Despite the unusual instrumentation, this is no Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’. Here, the sax provides a rich, romantic dexterity, while the deep, rumbling cello and double bass underpin the arrangements with broiling vigor.
There are a number of beautiful passages, such as on the song ‘Doom Over Valiria’, while ‘Furious Thoughts Of Tranquility’ is a swirling sax-doom extravaganza. There are rare glimpses of the band’s funeral roots, while songs such as the excellent ‘The Midwife To Sorrows’ combines traditional doom with slow power metal.
But, ironically, the band’s commitment to experimentation sometimes holds back the songs’ freedom of expression. The music can feel simplified in order to accommodate the unusual instrumental additions, such as on ‘The Last Retreat’. On occasions, particularly during the album’s second half, the prominent saxophone does not feel fully or smoothly integrated into the music – and that can be a distraction which interrupts the flow and development of the compositions.
Other tracks, again during the album’s latter portion, rely on lengthy spoken word samples to deliver their message (which in most cases is about atomic bombs and Hiroshima). The song ‘Crushing The Old Empire’, for example, features a breathtaking riff that is pushed to the background by the repeated samples.
The total running time of this ten-song album is a mere 40 minutes, and that could easily double if all of the songs were truly allowed to flourish. Narrow House deploy their alternately gentle and resonant vocals only sparingly, and perhaps it is in that absence where some of the songs feel unfulfilled.
Narrow House deserve a huge amount of credit for a creative and serious approach to their music, boldly combining styles and sounds that you might not expect to hear together. On ‘Thanathonaut’, they do not always make it work fluently, but there are enough great songs and signs of promise to suggest that it is not a forlorn hope.