Monachus - Below (2013)


The bearded men of Monachus, an export of Sweden, are probably what outsiders think every metal musician looks like. And while they might not be completely right, they aren't completely wrong either. But this three piece from Gothenburg are more than meets the eye; no, they don't transform from a robot into a plane or anything like that. They are far from one dimensional, though, in a much different way. For a band that relies heavily on the blaring distortion and crushing riffs of sludge, they manage to have a keen grasp on the sweetened melodies of some of the best post-rock has to offer. While that, in itself, may not be something new or all that exciting in 2013, it can lead to fantastic results when done right. On their sophomore album, Monachus stay the course, and find themselves in select company. On "Below," they choose quality over quantity, and deliver four tracks of beauty meets beast, black and white, light and dark contrast that will certainly earn them the respect and attention of fans, new and old alike.

Your speakers rattle immediately, something they will do often, as the distortion of the early moments in "Waves" enters and fades. The band is seemingly in no rush to get the track into full swing, instead taking their time before the first real blasts come through. The simplistic grooves may be the perfect way to catch your attention; but the more detailed melodies will keep it. Both bass and guitar share the lead, with an airy, nearly monotone chanting vocal cascading over the top. There is a focus on contrast in the vocal realm, with one side of the coin being the aforementioned chant, while the flip side is a harsh, unrefined scream. The second half of the track is a bizarre descent into near industrial tones, including an altered vocal track, layered with effects. The only constant is the drums, deliberate and always on the mark. With nearly half the run time, "Curse" is a far more focused and punishing track, loosening the grip on airy atmospherics, and bringing a heavy, metallic tinge to the table. Every lingering chord is met with the sizzle of a cymbal. It's in these stripped down and gritty moments that the bass work shines brightest, reinforcing the low end. But perhaps the most memorable chunk comes in the final minute, as the pace slows to a literal crawl, and a single growled vocal crushing you beneath its weight.

Having touched down on the sludge and doom sides, "Circles" explores something a bit mroe melodic, taking the band down a stretch of post-rock territory. That three minute intro is a step outside of the box they've built thus far on the album, but not out of reach. It is fleeting, though, as they quickly regain that raw power they've exhibited. The true victory of the track, and the album as a whole, as the ability to slide back and forth between the styles. Just as the intensity seems to hit full volume, they dial it back and deliver a slow, quiet change of pace. The seven minute mark here illustrates that to the t, backing out of the monstrous riffs and grating vocal stream for a touch of something far more subtle. By track's end, you ahve a pure melodic doom output, resembling a more in your face My Dying Bride. Much like the last pair of tracks, the longer, more hashed out "Circles" is followed by the shorter, more condensed "Onward." The dynamic is an interesting one in both cases, with the band utilizing their lengths in very different ways. In this case, a sampled spoken word segment helps to build the tone. But it's the comfort level the musicians feel at this point, the ease with which the track builds to a boil, that makes it the best on the album.

With so many bands putting out contrived, over produced material by the boat load, it makes the work of Monachus seem all the more profound. They've put a lot of themselves into these four tracks, in many different ways. But the most important, of course, is how easy it seems for them to play together. Rather than blindly into new territory, or follow the current mindless trend, they've stayed the course and done what they do best; create a black and white cookie of musical contrast. And in doing so, they will also create severeal strong minded, but different groups among listeners. Some will align themselves with one facet of the sound, either melodic or menacing. Some will like both, and the way they come together time and time again. And the last, and most likely smallest, group won't like either. But even the people in the latter group will appreciate what it is about this band that will draw others in. Forty minutes later, "Below" will be an album you'll talk about. And that is how Monachus could go from Swedish underground, to mainstream.

8/10

Bandcamp - http://monachus.bandcamp.com/
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/pages/MONACHUS/245683167266