Released: 2013, Alerta Antifascista Records
Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Doom metal by and large is a dark and despairing well. That's no bad thing, it's just what these bands do and bands like Neurosis, Sleep and Crowbar are some of the more well-known acts from this well. So MONACHUS may not exactly be the most well-known of bands, but they have reached the second album-mark with Below on Alerta Antifacista Records so they must have something to offer. Brothers Erik and Oskar Karlsson (guitar/vocals, and bass/vocals respectively) and drummer David Flood make up a trio of doom-purveyors on this record. But can this trio make enough noise to write home about? Interestingly, yes.
As a whole, the album is an interesting merger of psychedelic/post-rock and crushing doom metal - splicing the two together in an at-times hypnotic hybrid. Each track ebbs and flows between these elements seamlessly and showcases a fire raging within these Swedes' bellies. Opener "Waves" is like an audible retelling of the awakening of a great water beast that rises up and bears down upon the dry land. Elder god-enthusiasts may be disappointed to learn that it doesn't quite conjure images of the great Cthulu - "Waves" is a brighter proposition; instead of complete dark and despair, it feels lighter. The psychedelic clean guitars and rumbling bass give a sense of floating (apt, given the title) and almost alludes to the image of a Gojira-esque flying whale. The crashing doom sections conjure sheer might and magnitude, while the psychedelia gives this goliath a gentle quality.
"Curses" by contrast is a shorter and more "traditional" doom metal song - thick, heavy guitars that sit around a cacophonous wall of crashing drums, crawling along as brothers Karlsson below and growl ominously. Even so, they intersperse the lead-heavy doom moments with ominous, lurching moments of pseudo-ambience - guitars scream, bass haunts and drums crash. Look to the finale of this for an exemplary way to drag a doom song kicking, screaming, battered, bruised and hurting to a terrifying end. If you prefer your doom metal heavy and with little psychedelia, this one is your bag.
Black Sabbath clearly stand up as a key MONACHUS' influence - the blues-infused riffs of metal's godfathers are apparent throughout Below and the album's second half opener "Circles" proves this conclusively. Another slow-burning, twelve-minute epic that features far more in the way of psychedelia (though it is not without the heavier parts - the "chorus" features a small amount of groove and rock'n'roll edge, which makes for an intriguing turn of pace), whilst closer "Onward" cultivates Sabbath's heaviness with their more bluesy moments. It is already a good mix, but when you add the philosophy monologue of John Hurt's Arthur Seldom from the 2008 film The Oxford Murders, you take things up a notch or two. While not an overtly haunting affair - yet another cut that feels "lighter" - the coupling of the dissonant doom and bluesy cleans with Hurt's monologue makes for a slightly edgy listen and a decent closer.
Below is a well-mixed album - it balances the merger of psychedelia and doom well, but the production really shines here. There is enough crunch to make things sound heavy when they need to be, but it clears up beautifully enough when the album flows into its' areas of ambience and post-rock. It's welcome to hear singing within the realms of growling doom metal - the juxtaposition of the two vocal styles heightens the necessary heaviness and propels this album's lighter edge. Both Karlssons are excellent on their instruments and Flood's drumming anchors the trio well. As a band, they have crafted some great songs, and in the literal sense too - these tracks aren't just sprawling epics of down-tuned bleakness but songs with returning parts and elements that ebb, flow and move.
There is a slight drawback to Below and that is largely down to the track lengths. "Waves" and "Circles" seem a little excessive in places - some of the psychedelia passages just feel a little over-wrought. Perhaps they could be shortened or finish sooner? However, where these two could have finished sooner, "Onward" definitely should have - after the final line "thereof we must be silent", there is almost a further minute-and-a-half of psychedelia droning. It is not wholly unpleasant, but the impact of the word "silent" would have been excellent were the album to close there, but I suppose that would be bordering cliche. Reign this in, and this would be a perfect album of psychedelic doom metal.
For those who like their doom metal to be punctuated with small hits of acid, or those that simply like a bit of simple, heavy, Sabbath-inspired metal, then MONACHUS' sophomore effort will suit you down to the ground. Those that aren't so keen on the acid-trip ambience, may still want to give this a look.
Review by Lee Carter