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Narrow House : Thanathonaut

Unique, flawless and classically self-redefining, Narrow House have excelled with this release.

You could, I suppose, say that the Narrow House has widened considerably, although you might regret such a terrible pun in years to come. It has, though, as the Ukrainian outfit move away from the intelligent but relatively genre-defined Funeral Doom of their debut 'A Key To Panngrieb'. In truth, even the unusual incorporation of a prominent cello on that album didn't give much of a clue as to how far and how quickly they would travel, in a radically different direction. It took the actual release of 'Thanathonaut' to do that, and despite the band's commendable willingness to create and share diary videos along the way I don't mind admitting that it still came as a real surprise to me.

Fortunately, I should add, not in a bad way at all.

At first listen, the only question was not how good the album is, but how Doom: a debate slightly fuelled by the Solitude CD release being through the BadMoodMan Music sublabel, which handles their more Gothic/Rock-leaning offerings. And, yes, it could be categorised as particularly doomy Dark Metal, assuming there was much value in arguing where, exactly, the border lies between Gothic/Death/Doom Metal and Goth-tinged Death/Doom-influenced Metal. Alternatively, since Narrow House describe themselves as an 'Apocalyptic Doom' band, and 'Thanathonaut' is an album about apocalypse, laden with Doom motifs and moods, one could simply avoid that hair-splitting exercise and go straight to 'it's Doom'.

Putting the semantics aside momentarily, what you get with the standard release is the usual high-standard Solitude package: dramatic artwork, informative glossy booklet and crisp production. The band also offered a limited, self-produced digipack version containing all that and more; and kudos to them for doing so such personalised touches are a meaningful effort worth appreciating.

The album inside is quite short, at just over 40 minutes, comprising 9 original tracks and a cover in Russian - of Virgin Black's 'Renaissance' ('Возрождение'). To deal with this latter first: obviously few people are able to emulate the way Rowan London's idiosyncratic tenor delivery winds through often minimalist instrumentation, so Narrow House have approached it with a muscular, pacier musical transcription and a hoarse, snarling vocal. This reinterpretation gives it an aggressive edge not found in the pathos of the original, but far more suited to the character of this album, and, overall, is a worthy and intelligent reimagining of a classic track.

It also demonstrates a number of the staples found throughout the preceding body of the album: samples - discussing weaponry - linking the tracks; heavy, pulsating percussion; guitar-work that lays down both Death/Doom riffing and intense lead breaks; clean and more extreme vocals both laid back into the mix; and the liberal addition of classical/symphonic contributions (choirs, cello, contrabass, saxophone and, of course, keyboards). That may sound like an eclectic combination, largely because it is, but it works - with a vengeance. The combined layers of instrumentation give it a smooth lushness that, in part, is what distracts from the Doom elements which form a backbone to proceedings. Those ensure that there is plenty of dark, sombre heaviness lurking behind even the most soaring of sax melodies which are worthy of special mention, both as a genuinely rare instrument in this field and for their sublime nature.

It's actually quite hard to pick out any high spots against such an extraordinarily, consistently brilliant construction. 'Thanathonaut' paces itself superbly, without a wasted moment, dipping at will into gentler interludes and urgent bursts of momentum, mixing the mournful groan of the cello with some ultra-sharp guitar lines, dragging in moments of funereal battery and surging choral movement as it goes. Even the mild and only possible - criticism that the headlong dive towards Armageddon is a somewhat hackneyed subject seems inappropriate, given the current state of affairs in the Ukraine - if anything, having seen the news footage, it gives an additional poignancy to the material. I will, however, nominate a couple of personal favourite tracks: the stomping, furious whirl of 'The Midwife To Sorrows' and the sad, beautiful instrumental 'Doom Over Valiria' between them, they sum up the breadth and majesty that is on offer here.

Okay, that's quite a lot of superlatives, but I stand by all of them. I'd describe this a genuinely important album: a turning-point for the band, and possibly more than that. Narrow House have produced something quite unique with 'Thanathonaut', in my opinion a sufficiently radical and enthralling creation to stand comparison with other seminal self-redefinitions like My Dying Bride's 'Turn Loose The Swans', Katatonia's 'Discouraged Ones' or Anathema's 'Eternity'. Only one of those went on to epitomise a Doom genre, of course, and it remains to be seen whether similar odds apply here. Still, even if Narrow House choose to head off at a tangent in future, right now they're demonstrating in the best way possible that the boundaries of Doom can still be pushed into new and exciting places.

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Reviewer's rating: 10/10


Tracklist :
1. Crossroads
2. The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life
3. Furious Thoughts Of Tranquility
4. The Midwife To Sorrows
5. Thanathonaut
6. A Sad Scream Of Silver
7. Crushing The Old Empire
8. The Last Retreat
9. Doom Over Valiria
10. Возрождение

Duration : Approx. 40 minutes

Visit the Narrow House bandpage.

Reviewed on 2014-08-13 by Mike Liassides
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