Recently the rock and metal world has seen a number of scenes reviving the styles of years gone past. Whether it's heavier bands like Code Orange that fuse heavy hardcore and metalcore with the industrial elements of Nine Inch Nails, or bands like Ocean Grove and Blood Youth that take heavy influence from the nu metal of the late 90's and early 2000s, amalgamating stylings from genres of this bygone era is very popular right now.
Another revival scene going on right now is the riff-gaze revival, that being shoegaze bands that take an equal amount of influence from grunge, alternative metal and hard rock. Some of the biggest 90's bands that played this style would be The Smashing Pumpkins, Hum, Failure and Deftones. Perhaps what gives this newer wave of heavy shoegaze bands even more momentum (but also a higher benchmark) is the fact that a lot of the older names are leading the torch; Deftones have always left a very high standard for themselves and other bands with their highly anticipated ninth studio album being just around the corner, Hum has just released their first studio album in over two decades and although Failure have been reunited since 2013, their more recent activity is on par with their best 90's material. All of this leaves younger bands with both an exciting opportunity to release albums alongside some of their biggest influences, and also a very high benchmark to release albums of the same quality as these older names.
Narrow Head is a Texan heavy shoegaze band and one of the newer names in this scene. Their first album, Satisfaction, garnered positive critical response for its mix of shoegaze, post hardcore and alternative metal, and after a four-year wait they have now returned with their follow-up, 12th House Rock. Like many of their contemporaries such as Cloakroom, Whirr and Slow Crush, they borrow heavily from the shoegaze and noise rock scenes of the 90's, being evidently influenced by bands like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. However, perhaps what separates Narrow Head most from their contemporaries is the fact that the shoegaze element of their sound is much less prominent; instead they opt for a far more riff-driven heavy rock sound similar to bands like Quicksand, Helmet and The Smashing Pumpkins.
The Smashing Pumpkins influence is particularly prominent on songs such as 'Night Tryst', which opens with a galloping bass line. The whole song is a lot more fast paced and high-octane than material from their contemporaries, and this trend is mostly consistent throughout the whole record. The faster pace somewhat sets them apart from other heavy gaze bands, which for the most part opt for a slower pace; even older bands such as Failure and Hum have recently slowed the tempo down on their latest records. Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean Narrow Head don't slow things down every now and again; some of the longer cuts such as opening track 'Yer Song', 'Evangeline Dream' and 'Delano Door' are good examples of how this band can still fire on all cylinders even at a slower tempo. 'Delano Door' in particular is possibly the darkest and heaviest song on the album, driven mostly by the ominous bass line and the vocals, both building the tension up to the eruptive chorus. Even on the album's slower songs, Narrow Head still play with a tonne of energy, and the second half of the album in particular is where the band's strengths really shine through.
If there's anything to criticize Narrow Head about on 12th House Rock, it's that they aren't necessarily very shy about their influences; the vocals are very reminiscent of Sonic Youth, sometimes uncannily so, and the aforementioned comparisons to The Smashing Pumpkins are very apparent a lot of the time on this album. However, Narrow Head do a very good job at making sure they don't plagiarise their influences, also mixing in plenty of post-hardcore into their sound in a way that is simultaneously a throwback but also sounding fresh and relevant here in 2020. The album strikes an impressive balance of dreamy soundscapes with dark heavy undertones. The guitar work is dense and heavy, but also very melodic at the same time, and the bass guitar provides a solid foundation. The way the album is mixed also means that neither the guitars nor the bass ever drown each other out, and nor do the vocals ever dominate the mix, something all too common in most forms of contemporary music. The drumming is simple but effective, complimenting the bass guitar, and overall the album flows very nicely save for a few awkwardly placed interludes which don't really seem to add much to the album.
Overall, 12th House Rock definitely succeeds far more often than not, and whereas most of their contemporaries have opted in favour of slowing their music down, Narrow Head is a reminder that you can still make a kickass rock album in 2020 that is as energetic as it is melodic and introspective. The second half of the album in particular is a very strong sign that Narrow Head have got a promising future ahead of them, and this is a band that any fan of this style of music should definitely keep an eye on over the next few years.
12th House Rock is released August 28th via Holy Roar.
Pre-order the album here.