Out-of-season grunge revivalism will ultimately see the genre wane fairly routinely, but Narrow Head striking during its fallow period feels about right. In the UK anyway, they find themselves nestled among the cream of the crop of the heavies on the Church Road roster, in which past assessments of a hardcore band in grunge band’s body largely holds some water. That’s a comfortable medium for Narrow Head, a band who’ve previously affirmed an ambivalence to shoegaze that would tend to contribute towards a sound like theirs. In a genre landscape with as many flat, featureless plateaus as modern grunge, it’s nice to have a view like that to at least mix things up.
Moments Of Clarity, as a result, spends as little time as possible marinating in atmosphere that’s not accompanied by a fat, churning riff. Narrow Head are able to feel sweeping and expansive on their own terms, in a way that doesn’t relegate a clear desire for power in sound to window-dressing. Thus, the wall of sound approach is Narrow Head’s best friend, regardless of how it’s twisted. Opener The Real juxtaposes a heady, hazy swirl with riff-work that plunges down far below; meanwhile, Fine Day breaks its slamming mid-paced rollick all the way down into passages of bass noodling and birds chirping, without forgoing its killer momentum.
The riff truly is king here, cognisant of how not to be usurped by anything around it, and most fit for a sonic bludgeoning or immersed headphone experience above all else. As such, it’s not the most memorable album out there, outside of its composite parts that, in all fairness, do add up to a lot. Especially when Narrow Head really explore their darker, gnarlier impulses, you get something like Gearhead that’s anchored in a monster guitar tone that’s singlehandedly ripping crevasses into the ground, on top of the aftershocks of bass and drums and the screams that err towards a full lycanthropic transformation into metal. Paired with Trepanation’s grind and yet more coats of grunge melodiousness peeling back on Flesh & Solitude, it’s evident of where Narrow Head’s greatest strengths lie by far.
Not to say they aren’t good elsewhere, mind, but it goes without saying that a band tied to this sound with a clear proclivity for blowing it up are usually doing better when they lean into that. Otherwise, it can be hard to break out of the grasp that Jacob Duarte’s vocal delivery has and how the breathy, low-in-the-mix grunge staple isn’t lighting many fires. Though, maybe that’s less an issue when there’s such a clear emphasis placed on doing as much as possible with the instrumentation. On an album that finds itself consciously trying to break out desolate, destructive cycles into something more elegant (while also acknowledging that it’s not totally free from said cycles), there’s a powerful case to be made for building its sonic tableaux as high and imposing around those themes as possible. On the grounds of sheer force of presence alone, Moments Of Clarity certainly has that in the bag.
It’s certainly what one would expect from a band among the more creative of grunge’s current class, and on that front, Narrow Head seldom disappoint. Their vaults over the competition are clearing distances that definitely matter; you do feel a band crossing thresholds that most are taciturn to brave. Here though, it’s built so intrinsically into how this band works. That’s probably all as far as where they stand for now—when they can drill into melodies to match, that’ll be the turning point—but when next to reams of others who’ll come for a quick burst and dip out of the spotlight just as quickly, it says a lot that Narrow Head can keep as stable and strong as they have.
For fans of: Nothing, Superheaven, Hum
‘Moments Of Clarity’ by Narrow Head is released on 10th February on Church Road Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall