Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Night Watch—The Night Watch

If your band features the violin, it’ll probably rule my universe. Wetton-era King Crimson to Van der Graaf (without the Generator) to Curved Air, to High Tide to Mahavishnu Orchestra to the Dixie Dregs, Skyclad, My Dying Bride—all have crushed my puny head over the years. It’s an expressive, forceful instrument, and fits perfectly into the frequency range of rock. In the hands of the right player, violin can be just the thing to keep an overeager guitarist in check or provide melodic backup for a vocal line. The Night Watch has plenty of violin, and I like the Night Watch. This instrumental quartet from Ottawa has been together since 2008. On their debut album they play a blend of European folk, progressive rock and metal. If King Crimson were abducted and brainwashed by gypsies, this music might be the result. Their style also reminds me of Estradasphere and Vancouver’s own Pugs and Crows. Catchy themes and sprightly melodies mingle with solo passages and bursts of distortion and double-kick drumming. The sudden transitions between these elements are executed with great musicianship. The arrangements and song structures on “Don’t Creep” and the 15-minute adventure that is “War Whales” are clearly the result of some intense rehearsals. Nathanaël Larochette’s acoustic guitar playing, highlighted on the album's quiet sections, is recognizable from his Musk Ox project. The only thing I found myself wanting was a more prominent role for the electric guitar. For the most part it plays support to the violin rather than conversing with it. “In the Beginning,” the shortest track on the album, gets the balance right, but overall I think freeing up the guitar and giving it some improvising space alongside the violin would benefit their future material. But for now, this is a striking, adventurous debut that'll appeal to any forward-thinking music fan.