Thursday, 27 June 2019

Narrow Gate - Message from the Land of Noah (2019)



Country: Armenia
Style: Progressive Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 26 Jun 2019
Sites: Facebook | YouTube

Here's something even more off the wall than usual, because it's not just a product of a far flung nation (in this instance, the band are from Yerevan in Armenia), it's also an instrumental concept album about Noah's Ark that's brought to life through progressive metal by experienced musicians in other bands. While the story dates back to Mesopotamian flood stories and is part of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, this appears to be a Christian take.

That's because the core band members are Garik Amyan and Sergey Areskin, a pair who are far from just musicians. Sure, both play guitar here and Amyan also plays bass and drums and composed all this, but they founded the label, Art4God Records, which released it, and are core members of Blood Covenant, a symphonic unblack metal band that's almost two decades old. Amyan is also part of the worship team for the Word of Life Church in Armenia, which is evangelical Christian.

All of which means relatively little because the album is instrumental and so hardly counts as preaching. It merely underlines how seriously the band take the material. And hey, I've reviewed a lot of black metal here of late, so maybe it's about time I added a white metal album too.

There are seven tracks, which combine to loosely tell the old story that we probably all know. For those who don't, God decides to destroy everyone and everything on the planet but Noah is righteous so he gets saved, along with his family and mating pairs of animals and birds, all of which survive forty days and nights of flooding in their gopherwood boat. Eventually the waters recede and the Ark ends up on Mount Ararat, where Noah sends out a raven and a dove. When the dove comes back with an olive branch, he knows the land is drying and ready for repopulation. The end. Or the beginning.

Message, suitably, is the only track with a voice on it but it's God talking in Armenian so I can only assume what it says. It's really just an intro to set us up for Wages of Sin, an attempt to describe in musical terms just how wicked the world is. What fascinated me here was how it's constructed out of a whole plethora of instruments, many of which seem to be Hispanic. That's a Latin guitar and a brass section. How old is Tijuana?

I have to wonder too how many instruments they actually used, because there are all sorts of sounds here, but I presume most are the product of someone on keyboards. Surprisingly the band don't bring Christianity into a summary of what they do, going instead for "ethno-progressive metal band". I assume that adds a folk element to their prog metal which accounts for the diverse instrumentation.

After the decadence of Wages of Sin, we get 382 Seconds Before Noah's Flood, perhaps the most descriptive title I've ever seen. Given that the track is 388 seconds long, we can be sure that the flooding is going to begin right at the end of it and, sure enough, there's thunder crashing right there. It feels underwhelming because that's not an epochal raging torrent.

I was much more sold by the next track, The Ark, which begins with a flurry of guitarwork that highlights how violent the scene must have seemed at the time, with everyone else and their dog drowning. A number of lulls highlight how quiet things get once the water level is high enough but they escalate quickly. The intensity of the song rises and falls like huge frickin' waves.

Eventually we get to KaqaviX, a word I don't recognise, which is about the raven and the dove. It's a playful piece, featuring a lot of lively music, often in the form of fiddle, piano and flute. Holy Mountain is more active still, surprisingly so given that I was expecting peaceful music to reflect the land that Noah found, but I guess it's merely a celebratory song about finding it after so long afloat.

It's New Beginning that finds peace, presumably after the olive branch has been found. The synths take over to swell with emotion, then guitars emerge from the synths to heighten it. It's described as an outro but it's longer than the track before it and is just as worthy. It wraps things up in happy style, at least for Noah and his family. Everyone else has drowned but they were all wicked so it's OK.

I'm not trying to be sarcastic here, but the instrumental approach provides a lot of leeway in interpretation and it seems like this album tells a very simple, sanitised version of the whole affair. That seems odd to me, because while I'd be more than happy for kids in Sunday School to be exposed to the joys of progressive metal, I don't quite expect that to happen and so this is far more likely to reach the ears of adults who are, in turn, more likely to ask awkward questions. There are no answers here.

Theology aside, I enjoyed this as a piece of music. It's fun stuff and it's easy to listen to, even if you don't want to use it as a teaching aid. It's just over half an hour of music, with an appropriate progression between the tracks, which seem well delineated. We get the story from beginning to end without it ever seeming to grate on our patience or surprising with content that doesn't fit. The musicianship is excellent and consistent, even with no less than four band members credited on guitar.

It's decent stuff and it would be a trip to see it performed at the Word of Life Church in Armenia, but it is what it is. You probably figured out your likelihood of buying it from the first paragraph of this review.

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