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Hailing from Ukraine I can only imagine what bleak and desolate place spawned Narrow House into existance. 4 man and 1 woman strong the band's lot in life is creating godforsaken funeral doom metal focussing on atmosphere, and in 2012 the world would hear the first eldritch groaning that the band has to offer.
Like the strange creaking and moaning of a long-abandoned house the 4-track album slowly blunders into life with the opening track. The mental images created by Narrow House at this early point are those of complete desolation, abandonment and horrid lonesomeness - As it turns out these themes of eerie atmospheres and tenebrous matters are frequent on the album, and definitely one of the band's strongpoints. Their incorporation of classical instruments such as the cello fits the style of funeral doom metal perfectly and gives the music a destinct feel of authenticity and hints toward the filmic, making it almost sound like the soundtrack to some long forgotten black and white silent horror movie.
Narrow House have put the funeral in funeral doom metal with A Key to Panngrieb. Though I don't understand a word of their lyrics or song titles the music speaks its own language. A language of death, ragnarok and darkness. To some the music of the Ukranian band may seem uneventful or bland, but to me it seems to have great depth and particularly well thought through. Add to this that the production is as clear as it needs to be with this type of music. It leaves every aspect audible and yet making it possible for the band to have certain suggestive themes that make their music excel in creating atmospheres.
I like how the funerary procession guitars aren't actually the main focus of the band. The droning chords of guitar and bass go perfectly in unison and are crucial to the music, but without the vibrant cello-work the album would be incredibly boring. The tracks are generally speaking very lengthy, and this serves both as the main attraction and annoyance of A Key to Panngrieb. As most funeralesque graveyard bands the length of the tracks can make it hard to stay interesting, especially when there's so little going on. But again, this is both the thing that makes this type of music work and the thing that makes it tiresome to listen to for prolonged periods of time. But all in all A Key to Panngrieb is a prime example of great funeral doom metal, even if it isn't the heaviest of sorts.
Originally posted on http://gouls-crypt.blogspot.com/
When it comes to slow, doomy music very few bands outright sound like Skepticism but Narrow House is one band that is obviously influenced and enamored by that full-on wall of synthesized weight expelled at the speed of flowing mud which still manage to take a somewhat left-field inspiration and tweak it to be still unique. Though slightly more guitar driven than the past several Skepticism releases, A Key To Panngrieb is still a load of mass crawling through the murk towards an unsuspecting child. Ukraine's Narrow House prove that no one is able to escape the influence which Funeral Doom, Drone and other Doom offshoots have had on the metal sound scape in the past decade. More and more bands are opting for this style and, consequently, more and more bands make it harder to stand out and impress.
Opening track "Poslednee Pristanishe" is a looming figure over a helpless animal. Like the other four tracks on Narrow House's debut, it is slow and persistent. There is no way you could jog to any of these tracks - unless you have incredibly long strides - even if the length of them would be perfect for a long period away from civilization. It's in "Poldsednee..." which we are introduced to the patience of the band. The album opens with a long three minute introductory segment and then climbs through an undulating series of melodies. The rhythms remain very singular and simple across the whole album but that doesn't prevent other tracks from not standing out or being tedious. "Psevdoratunok" contains some dynamic volume shifts coupled with prominent drumming and vocals over a slick flowing guitar that still is texturally frictional while in "Steklianniu Bog," the third track, cello is prominent in summoning howling vistas and atmospherics and is accompanied with an excellent final four minutes of sound scape imagery and piano layers.
One of the definitive aspects of the band that really intrigues me is the arrangement of the tracks. In many ways it is very traditional in it's structure in terms of Funeral Doom and in other ways the band have tried some different things. The guitar playing of Oleg Merethir is mixed below Petro Arhe's drums and Atya's Keyboards. They itch often and you never forget they are there under what is really the music's more prominent instruments. Vocals are most prominent, as is expected but the bass is also very audible and where you really encounter the twist is with cellist Alexander. With the addition of another low-register string instrument the arrangement of the other instruments becomes important. A bowed cello would be masked by loudly mixed guitars and is emphasized here because there is room between the instruments to place another component. When you hear the cello play many of the melodic parts of the music such as in "Steklianniy Bog," there is a ghostly hum emanating from beneath the common instruments. It's a different look and they score here because of it. In many places I am listening solely to hear what the cello is doing or will do.
Narrow House do a great job at building up to great moments in the compositions and the thirteen minute long Steklianniy Bog is, once again, a highlight in this regard where nine minutes after the initial dirge chimes, bellowing and windy scenes are coaxed from layers of keyboards and cello to, at least for me, send shivers down the spine. This strong standard of songwriting is also evidenced in second track, "Psevdoriatunok," with it's sense of vacancy in comparison to the rest of the album. It clears a hurdle that most albums never do in this style - remaining interesting past the first track. While the cello certainly helps, the six minute track breaks up an album which has already been running for over fourteen minutes and allows the listener to 'reboot' for the following two tracks.
The final track is a cover of Esoteric's "Beneath This Face," which is well done but at the same time emphasizes the deficiencies of what Narrow House have done on other parts of the album such as the lack of faster parts and more typical riff based moments to create intensity. Even so, they do a great job with this track and without knowing that this was a cover, the song ends the album on a massive high note. It being a cover though is a bit of a let-down though as I would much rather have heard another of their own original songs round out the final parts of the album. To end the album with a cover like this seems like it's a cop out. They picked an awesome track to end the release but it wasn't their own track.
Originally written for Contaminated Tones.
Though Ukrainians Narrow House hail from a tradition of soul leeching, somber funeral doom, the sound they've adopted for their debut A Key to Panngrieb is actually far brighter, more atmospheric, and their wise incorporation of instruments like a cello and synthesizers helps give this music a far larger breadth than if they had merely trudged along with the same lifeless, disaffected lurch as so many others in this niche. Granted, this debut is not incredibly menacing or sad. It's also not riff-heavy: the simple structure of the chords functions as little more than foundation for the guttural resonance of the front man, while the orchestral swells and ambient passages provide that extra 'push' preventing the heavy limbs from a festering ennui.
So spacious is A Key to Panngrieb, that you can discern each snare, cymbal and kick of the drummer, as if he was storing up all this pent up emotion and aggression into the most minimal of strikes. The bass strums along like the failing pulse of a dying heart, full but at the same time quite sparse over the raw banks of the guitar distortion, while the cello plucks along like a chamber musician witnessing one of Edgar Allen Poe's liquor fit depressions. The vocals are a pure growl, something like Shape of Despair where he lets his intonation ride out over each syllable in time with the drudging undercurrent, but they often take on a higher, rasped pitch, or even sink into a guttural mumble. The keys definitely create an otherworldly choir of sadness through their own simple repetition; never complex or intricate in terms of their composition, more like a procession of mourning angels slowly swaggering to the precipice of some eternal pit and then thrusting themselves down to its depths with mechanical precision. Guitars do often pick up pace to a flood of chords or chugs, as with the closer "Под Маской Этой" (a cover of Esoteric's "Beneath This Face"), where they even lovingly tease a blast beat...
However, I wouldn't have minded more variety to these patterns, perhaps more implementation of sad, swelling guitar harmonies that could even play better off the cello. Like most albums in this type, A Key to Panngrieb fights an uphill battle to remain interesting across the 11-14 minute long songs that represent 75% of the track list. I actually liked the extended intro to the album, with speech samples, brooding synthesizers and low piano hits; I also thought the production was excellent, nothing murky or difficult to process; and the surreal artwork is quite compelling. But with music that moves so slowly, I feel like the chord progressions need to be incredibly capable of conjuring despair, and these were just sort of average in doing that job. Narrow House succeed here by virtue of their enormous atmospherics, but they've got plenty of space in which to further experiment. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to fans of the more dry, psychedelic droning doom inherent to Skepticism or Thergothon, but more to those who like the simpler, mourning crush of Evoken, Shape of Despair, perhaps even My Dying Bride.