Review – Nathanael Larochette: Earth and Sky

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  • Bio: "Nathanael Larochette is an Ottawa based guitarist and member of the chamber folk trio Musk Ox and the instrumental progressive metal band The Night Watch." - Bandcamp
  • Label: Self-release
  • Release Date: July 29th, 2016
  • Genre: Ambient, Classical, Instrumental
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

Who is Nathanael Larochette, one might ask? He is a Canadian neo-folk guitarist noteable for his time with the bands Musk Ox and The Night Watch. After years of working with those groups, the musician continued to hone his craft and, as a result, brings you a double disc follow-up to his 2012 solo debut Threshold of Transformation titled Earth and Sky. The offering is split into a collection of classical folk infused guitar instrumentals, as well as a forty minute ambient composition. But do these performances really stack up in a way you’ll want to take notice of, or is this like having to painfully sit through a siblings recital?

One could kind of look at disc one (Earth) in that regard given the crisp nature of the release, but often it’s more like a private concert that doesn’t quite have that warm intimacy or chamber vibe to it. In fact, there isn’t much in the way of atmosphere beyond the first few tracks. “Awaken” takes you back to the renaissance, sitting in a glade as children play and the rest of the town has a merry old time whilst the minstrels strum away. It’s a beautiful softer passage that has a decent emptiness when you hear the fingers run along the strings, and the overall softness of the notes allows you to slip away into the days of knights and dragons. And then the sun sets as “Monument” kicks in. Without a single lyric uttered, the song speaks volumes of tales of heroism that praise the fallen for their deeds being told over a roaring fire surrounded by said residents of the medieval village.

From there, that fantastical sensation starts to fade, being replaced with more complex performances. “Farewell” is a faster track that sounds as though it takes inspirations from Iron Maiden‘s “Run to the Hills” at times. There’s also a gradual build that doesn’t necessarily explode in a similar manner, but you can notice when the carefree excitement picks up just past the half way point, pulling away from the deeper chords and painting a jollier world. “Invocation” also has a trace of acoustic heavy metal behind it, though it isn’t quite as beautiful as it probably could be. This is still an entertaining song, executed quite well with a decent pacing that is quiet enough to allow the sound of the pick hitting the strings to come through and make it a bit more intimate than it would otherwise be. But the overall impact isn’t quite as strong as any of the previous songs.

And then there’s the other end of the spectrum with the second disc Sky. As opposed to classical guitar instrumentals, this one uses some effects to create more of a stargazing atmosphere with hints of psychedelia. At first it seems like your fairly typical expression of a summer’s day, laying in the fields and allowing the sun to slowly slip away. That sensation is shortly swapped out for a night’s sky with a subtle fall chill in the air. And in that regard, “Sky” excels. However, overall, it isn’t all that memorable, or anything to really go back to. Most of the time you’re just sitting around waiting for the incredibly slow build to lead you somewhere, and even when the bass guitar kicks in around thirteen minutes, it still feels like nothing more than an extended introduction to an Alcest album that never really starts. It’s not bad, but even when the static that sounds like crashing waves hits about twenty minutes in, you can’t help but feel the show in the night sky growing listless and dull, making you aware of the sandpaper you at one point forgot you were laying naked atop.

Nathanael LarochetteWhile the compositions themselves are pretty good for the most part, Earth and Sky really could have been better. The mastering is a bit too crisp for such an open sounding effort, only really glorifying the atmospheres on two tracks and allowing the rest to rely solely on their speed and technical chords. The second half is an ambient piece that works in theory, leaving behind a decent cut that goes on a bit too long and never really goes anywhere past the fifteen or twenty-minute mark. Basically the pieces are there, but wrong non-instrument tools are being used to put it all together for you. Earth and Sky has its catchiness, its bouts of energy, and moments of meditation, offering a varied experience all around, which is just enough to make it something at least worth checking out once to say you heard it.

Digital review copy of this release provided by Nathanael Larochette via Earsplit PR.