Grant Henry, better known as Stemage, has a long and storied history in the music community, especially if you’re acquainted with the video game music scene. Best known for the killer heavy metal renditions of the Metroid franchise’s music as Metroid Metal, Henry has been publicly producing tunes for our ears since the late 90s.
Continuing the trend in our year of 2016, he brings us Narrowband, a 30-minute, color-themed musical journey that’s simultaneously rock and space, lying somewhere between short album and lengthy EP. A mouthful, but a pleasant one, to be sure.
Narrowband begins with the oscillation-filled “Mercury,” an inoffensive intro track that introduces the album in the same way that “Marigold” caps it off. Both tracks aren’t necessarily “bad,” but they are merely unobtrusive, serving their purposes to a T. The meat and potatoes of Narrowband lie in its four-track body, beginning with “Amulet.” Diving deeper into the space-driven tone, “Amulet” explores this far out aesthetic, taking you on a chill wave through the vast vacuum.
Moving forward, we come to “Red Ribbon.” Tinged with memories of Goku’s struggles against the titular army in the heyday of Dragon Ball, “Red Ribbon” is the first track that is actually engaging instead of being passively enjoyable. The slick staccato riffings, the soaring lead melodies that outline the whole track, the dissonant notes that lead us to the end—just a massive song through and through that actively explores the musical spectrum.
In kind, “Astronaut” does a lot of the same, with its heavy, slow chugs on guitar and bass carrying along the track, with a high melody relegated to the background in some sort of anxiety-driven adventure. This head-bobbingly strong song leaves little to the imagination, making no secrets of the fact that it was meant to be the lead track of the record.
However, the end of “Astronaut” merely gives way to the massively good “Barossa.” Echoing the physical sentiment of the Barossa Valley of Southern Australia in an audible form, “Barossa” is colossal in scope and tone. The thickness of the bass shines through above everything, truly being the driving force here. There’s a lot of early-2000s alt rock sentiments, especially in the guitar trade-off partway through the song, as well as some of the composition, but these elements only add to the value of “Barossa” as the crème de la crème of Narrowband. Distinctly enjoyable and supremely fun, if anything is truly the centerpiece of this record, it’s this track. Finally, the record ends with “Marigold.” As mentioned before, this track is meant to bring us to a close and it does so in the advertised spacey manner that Narrowband promises from the very beginning. Lots of delay and pleasant slowness.
Narrowband is wonderful in that it does exactly what it aims to do—deliver some righteous, space-influenced rock. It’s hard to fault anything for accomplishing exactly what it meant to do. however, Narrowband is perhaps too succinct in its aim, not being necessarily bad, but perhaps not hitting all the right notes (yes, pun intended). Enjoyable through-and-through, but may not wholly leave a mark on your heart and mind.