Album Review: THE NIGHT WATCH An Embarrassment of Riches
The Night Watch’s first two records— 2013's eponymous debut and 2016's Boundaries—marked them as an essential up-and-coming instrumental progressive metal act. Aimed at conveying “emotional and cinematic narratives through expansive journeys of dynamic sound,” the sequences’ enthrallingly erratic yet sublime hodgepodges of playful orchestral aggression and bittersweet acoustic tapestries were absolutely fascinating. Now, the Canadian quartet (violinist Evan Runge, bassist Matthew Cowan, guitarist Nathanael Larochette, and percussionist/pianist Daniel Mollema) return with their greatest effort yet, An Embarrassment of Riches. True to its name, the LP builds upon the strengths of its predecessors to offer an even more eclectic, determined, and vibrantly affective venture. As such, it’s an absolute triumph of the form.
The band describes An Embarrassment of Riches as an impactful audio trek ranging from “cavernous valleys of solitude and paranoia, to soaring peaks of transcendence and affirmation”; thereby, it encapsulates “the turmoil and triumph one would imagine facing on an isolated landmass . . . carrying listeners . . . to the root and summit of human experience.” Larochette adds that while it wasn’t initially going to be a concept album, “a new piece of the puzzle would reveal itself” with each completed composition. Narratively, it “loosely follows a nameless explorer who finds themselves shipwrecked on a seemingly deserted island.” Interestingly, The Night Watch began working on it before Boundaries but they decided that it deserved more time to gestate and evolve. That perseverance has certainly paid off, as the LP is easily their most enjoyable, diverse, and confident collection yet.
As you’d expect, there’s plenty of raucous calamity embedded in the music. For instance, lead single “Mendoza”—which finds the explorer “forced to face an overwhelmingly perilous situation without being crushed by the weight of their own doubt and loneliness”—is harrowing and exhilarating in equal measure. From its main crashes of drums and guitar riffs around sorrowful strings, to its more contemplatively delicate segues and sudden bursts of friskiness, it’s richly dramatic and intricate throughout. Elsewhere, the two-part “The Summit” acts as its own twenty-minute tragic suite filled with lovely acoustic guitar arpeggios, hypnotic violin melodies, and arrestingly complex motifs. For the most part, the rest of the record sticks to that trajectory with comparable poise and intrigue.
That said, there are some lighter moments, too, in terms both of attitude and arrangement. For instance, opener “Land Ho!” throws in rambunctious chants of “Hey!” to fully realize its nautical undercurrent. Later, “Dance of the Mountain People” throws in some danceable jazz flourishes—as well as nice interlocking vocal harmonies—as it somewhat mirrors the theme to The Addams Family. As for closer “Currents,” it’s a gentle outro whose wordless dialogues between piano and acoustic guitar are exquisitely tasteful and touching. It feels like the ending credits of an immensely dramatic film, leaving you in calming introspection as you internalize what you’ve just been through.
An Embarrassment of Riches is a towering achievement not only for The Night Watch, but for the instrumental progressive metal subgenre as a whole. The sheer amount of styles, timbres, and emotions present here are stunning, and the fact that the quartet can shuffle through them with such faultless composure, inventiveness, and zeal is just as outstanding. (That they manage to tell a remarkably captivating and relatable tale without really using their voices is just the icing on the cake.) From start to finish, An Embarrassment of Riches is a mesmerizingly full-bodied, challenging, and accessible representation of being hopelessly marooned and isolated, so it’s undoubtedly a must-own masterstroke.