Thursday, 9 May 2019

Monasterium - Church of Bones (2019)



Country: Poland
Style: Epic Doom Metal
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 6 May 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | YouTube

I came into this album not knowing anything about Monasterium except that they play epic doom metal in Poland. I left it knowing a lot more, because this is really good stuff and they clearly enjoy what they do, describing themselves on Facebook as 'humble knights of doom on their second crusade'. Their first was a 2016 self-titled album which I'll immediately seek out [edit: it sounds good but not as good as this].

The one downside to this band is that they're clearly huge fans of Messiah Marcolin era Candlemass, so much so that this almost sounds like a tribute album. That's it. If you see that lack of originality as a problem, this is perhaps not the doom metal album for you and best of luck finding something that truly stands apart from what's gone before. If you really don't care and, frankly, perk up at the idea of something comparable to Nightfall and Ancient Dreams, then this is emphatically for you.

So, if you're still here, let me tell you how great this is. Of course, you already know what it sounds like because you've played those two Candlemass albums to death. It sounds like that. The vocalist attempting the tough feat of surviving a comparison to Messiah Marcolin is Michał Strzelecki who, get this, used to play guitar in a power metal band called Sorcerer. That seems really weird to me because it's really rare for a musician to transition to vocals with such emphasis but hey, I ain't knockin' it.

Strzelecki isn't Marcolin, though, of course, nobody else is either. He is, however, very good indeed. He sings entirely in English and does well, even if he can't quite hide his Polish accent. Frankly, it adds a little exotic texture. To highlight how good he is, he shares the mike on The Last Templar with Leo Stivala, who's sung for the Maltese doom band Forsaken for almost three decades, and, as good as Stivala is, he's clearly not as good.

If Monasterium were nothing but a great singer, I wouldn't be raving like I am here. Fortunately, the rest of the band are all strong. Filip Malinowski drives a lot of this on a highly resonant bass. Tomasz Gurgul is a walking riff machine on guitar. Maciej Berniak, manning the "drums of doom" keeps it all very much under control and even adds a little perkiness at points. The three of them all used to play in a prog metal band called Sadman Institute, who put out an album in 2015 that now intrigues me. It sounds like they live and breathe doom but apparently they didn't used to.

And, to put the icing on the cake, Monasterium aren't just a bunch of solid musicians. They have actual songs to play here and that's surprisingly often a missing component for otherwise highly talented bands. I don't know which band members to praise for the songwriting, but it's as strong as anything else here. I knew I was going to like this just from the title track, which opens the album, but it just gets better from there.

La Danse Macabre varies as to why it's better. It starts out very much as a guitar song with Gurgul churning out a glorious riff and Berniak setting an agreeable pace, but his work in the midsection brings a huge grin before Strzelecki lays claim to the song with a dramatic section and a couple of moments of sheer power. Liber Loagaeth betrays a surprising influence, in early Manowar, but still with a very doom vocal. It's too polished to have fit on something as raw as Hail to England, but it would have been worthy.

And then they get heavy! Ferrier of the Underworld and Embrace the Void are both crushing doom tracks led by more glorious riffs and some soaring vocals from Strzelecki. The former is as Nightfall era Candlemass as it gets and I have to praise Malinowski and Berniak for keeping the song as heavy as they do while Gurgul is soloing. The latter starts tantalisingly quiet and likes to stay there for the verses, but it builds with some serious power, Berniak and Malinowski once again crushing it behind the vocals.

Every song thus far has been great and we're coming up on my favourites. The Order of the Dragon and Sleeping with the Dead are both songs that do little more than previous songs did but somehow grew more on me. The latter is long too and I think Monasterium do well with longer songs. Of course, the longest is the last one, The Last Templar, with that guest vocal, and it builds like an epic should. There's a little of that old school Manowar here again but it's a killer doom track to wrap up a killer doom album.

I don't give out high ratings easily because I feel that classics can only be truly quantified in hindsight, but this is easily as worthy as anything I've heard this year. Thus far I've only given two 9/10s and this makes it three, with the added note that I expect to be going back to this far more often than Aephenamer and maybe more than Uluru.

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