12th House Rock by Narrow Head
21 May 2022
If, like me, you are in complete denial that the 90s ever ended then you may find that Houston based Narrow Head have developed a rather tasty medicine for you. Scenes come and go and genres, even when they do persist over decades, evolve in to mutations of their original sound. There are bands out there that move very careful within the confinements of a particular era's sound in order to keep the dream alive but often, 20 or 30 years down the line this can come across parodical or cheesy. What then will we make of a band that has taken not one but countless different genres and styles from a period in the past to create their own take on an era for a new audience that were never there?
Narrow Heads second studio album 12th House Rock came out in August 2020 on Holy Roar Records. I only recently discovered this record and upon first listen there was no way I would ever have believed it came out so recently and was by a band that only formed in 2013.
The opening number Yer' Song, after a teasing blip of feedback, falls immediately in to a purposeful, heavy, rhythm at a speed that contrasts with the weight and tone of the guitar. A simple melody holds out in the foreground with a background of fuzz and noise. When the initially slow and droning vocals kick in the sound is complete displaying elements of grunge, 90s alt rock, alt metal and even some the nu metal of the early noughties. The vocal harmonies of this opening track are initially reminiscent of Alice In Chains but the treatment of the voice varies throughout the track and the album as a whole.
Stuttering Stanley features a Billy Corgan-esque breathiness in the bridge and Chino Moreno's influence can be felt all over from the screams on Hard To Swallow to the lazy melodic delivery of Emmadazey. The vocal effects and enunciation have been undeniably influenced by the mainstream alternative metal of the late 90s and whereas a faux megaphone is almost categorically tacky, here it merges well with the dense guitars and sits nicely engrossed in the mix.
The character of the guitar on this album is, at its most interesting, a thick soup of effects inspired by Kevin Shields and other shoegaze guitarists of the time. Whereas bands like My Bloody Valentine are comfortable leaning in to that wash of sound, Narrow Head seamlessly drop in cleaner sections, space where it's needed and even solos that work against a backdrop that is not used to solos.
Wastrel is an entirely unexpected acoustic track that unnecessarily fills two minutes before Delano Door. The latter features a lead bass riff and spoken word verses. The chorus screams Deftones again but not in a crass way, just a very clear influence.
The album closes with Evangeline Dream, arguably one of the most accomplished tracks on the record. It combines the shoegaze backdrop with clean lead guitars, stunning solos and multiple defined sections with unique personalities. The delivery of the hook reminds me of Fuel's Brett Scallions but later in the track there is an airiness and ethereal nature to the vocal production that adds a whole new flavour.
12th House Rock is not only an adventurous and well written body of work it is a pool of memories for anyone that was working their way through rock and metal in the late 90s. The influences are clear but used sensibly and they are not trying to outright emulate anyone. If you have even a passing interest in that era of rock and metal I would recommend this album. This is a great band, a great record and a melding of genres that works almost too well. I can see other bands in years to come trying to sound like Narrow Head in an attempt to sound like the 90s. Give it a listen. Let me know what you think.