Style: Stoner Metal
Release Date: 20 Sep 2019
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I've heard a lot about Monolord, some of it high praise and some of it jokey dismissal, but this, their fourth studio album in six years, is my first and I'm only now hearing what they do.
What they do is big fat frickin' huge riffs. Sure, they describe their sound as "enveloping, syrupy sludge" but it's hard to imagine the scale of riffage going on. Critics like me often get overly enthusiastic about our favourite bands and wax lyrical in ways that frankly overhype their effect. This band are insanely heavy with the guitar much higher in the mix than the vocalist so that things feel even heavier. Monolord state that ultra-low frequencies serve as their fourth member.
From the very outset on The Bastard Son, Thomas Jäger builds ocean waves out of his riffs that thunder onto our unwary shoreline with his voice a distant surfer hidden somewhere behind the spray. Mika Häkki's bass plays along and underlines and emphasises that heaviness to massive degrees. Is this a band or a tsunami? Esben Willems is the drummer behind this duo and he does his job well, playing as few beats as possible but enough to keep this behemoth in motion.
Beyond being agreeably shocked at just how heavy The Bastard Son got, I was a little disappointed with the song itself. Monolord were crushing me with a ridiculous amount of weight in their sound but I wasn't sure where they were going with it. They nail the melodic aspect of this sort of doom later but I didn't hear it for a while. However, the simplicity of the riffs and, frankly their monotony, is shaken halfway through when the band start to mix it up. They get slow (well, slower), a lot quieter and much more intricate, without losing that weight.
Suddenly I was on board and I repeated that experience with The Last Leaf, a song that disappointed me until it got really interesting. It took a while, even on a shorter five minute song. I should point out that this album runs a smidgeon over three quarters of an hour, but that only means six tracks. The shortest is a heartbeat away from five minutes while two songs run over nine minutes and one almost eleven.
What really sold me on the band was Larvae, the third track. Like everything here, it's Black Sabbath influenced but this time it really acknowledges the sheer breadth of what they did back in the early days. It's Ozzy-era Sabbath at its folkiest but with the riffs still fuzzed up to eleven, if not twelve. It's never just sheer bludgeoning, it runs the gamut of dynamics in a real song structure. I loved it and I enjoyed Skywards a lot for similar reasons.
By this point I'd become a confirmed fan and I stayed that way through Alone Together, a kind of heavy ballad with Jäger's vocals appearing to float into the studio from another room. And that leaves the eleven minute title track, which is a delightfully heavy romp that feels achingly unrushed. There's a point just over the halfway mark where it drops into delicate noodling only for Häkki's bass to show up with an insane power chord and crush the world for effect. I absolutely adored that contrast.
I liked this, especially once it added melody to the crushing doom, and I'm now certainly going to be checking out Monolord's prior three albums. I hear a lot of good things about 2017's Rust and that's next on my agenda.