Back in 2019, I reviewed Church of Bones, the second album from Polish epic doom metal band Monasterium, and the experience blew me away. I loved that album immediately and abidingly and it's right there on my 9/10 list for that year in company with only fifteen others. I completely failed to notice the release of their third album in June, so this review is a little later than it should be. Thanks to Rafał Borsuk from Nine Records for sending me a copy.
The bad news is that it took longer to grow on me than its predecessor, though perhaps I needed a little time to adjust. Most of the great albums I've been listening to lately are fast ones or at least perky ones. This is not remotely fast and it's only occasionally perky, even then in a dissimilar way to, say, Orianthi or Clutch. Then again, this is epic doom metal so fast is not in its repertoire. It has moments at a slightly faster tempo but, as enjoyable as those are, they mostly serve to underline the inevitable slowdowns that come next, which are exquisite. I grinned in admiration every time that happened on The Stigmatic.
The good news is that I adjusted. I started in on it last night after Orianthi and Blind Guardian but I've been listening it to it all day today. Coming to it first thing saw it improve, a couple more times through elevated it further in my estimation and, a few more listens later, it's almost become an old friend. I don't think that it's as good as its predecessor, but it comes pretty close, easily enough to make my Highly Recommended List for this year with an 8/10.
Once again, it's doom metal firmly in the Candlemass style, maybe not quite as obviously this time because they're finding their own sound, but it's simply impossible to miss that comparison. It's a given that, if Nightfall and Ancient Dreams are your idea of heaven, then Monasterium ought to be in your ears right now. Never mind reading this, just go out and buy their albums and thank me later.
The first element you'll love is the guitarwork. These riffs are immense and they sometimes come in hard, as on The Siege, or patiently, like with Necronomicon. Often they manage both, such as on Cimmeria or The Great Plague, because they absolutely nail power chords as crescendos and their production only emphasises those moments more. Sometimes Tomasz Gurgul and Maciej Berniak feel less like a guitarist and a drummer and more like human versions of the Clashing Rocks in the old Jason and the Argonauts movie. Gurgul solos well too, with my favourites on Necronomicon.
Before long, Michał Strzelecki's vocals will show up and you'll be whisked away into another world. He's Polish, of course, but he sings in English with a strong accent and a grandiose delivery that is one part Bela Lugosi, one part Ozzy Osbourne and a whole heck of a lot of parts Messiah Marcolin, operatic and theatrical. The result takes a little getting used to but I adore his diction and ability to effectively preach at us about ancient books of horror, mythological swords and the like.
He's a born performer who always conjures our attention, even on Remembered, whose acoustic intro keeps on going throughout the song. It feels like a tale that might be sung in an inn, but not as a song of cameraderie—as a sad plea for remembrance. If his accent and theatricality feel like they might not be your thing, do persevere because he will probably grow on you when you realise how cool it is to imagine a five hundred year old eastern European vampire fronting a doom band. Sure, that's partly the accent and little the theatricality, but much of it is the feel of age that he's able to convey. His vocals are as epochal as Gurgul's riffs.
Eventually, you'll remember that these magical vocals and immense riffs are part of actual songs. Given the epic nature of their sound, it's almost a shock to realise that nothing here is of a length we might associate with epics. The closer, Cold are the Graves, comes closest because the intro in a quintessentially old school Jimmy Page style, which later reprises under narration, extends it close to eight minutes. Most of the rest sit between five and six with that acoustic piece under four, and they use that time well but I stil wonder how they'd sound in ten minute epics.
I have a feeling that, even though some songs are elevated above others right now in my mind, I'm going to shuffle my rankings with each listen. Necronomicon caught me first, followed by the pair of openers, The Stigmatic and Cimmeria. The Siege wouldn't let me be, though it doesn't live up to its early urgency. Later, Cold are the Graves elevated itself and Seven Swords of Wayland too. That leaves The Great Plague, which has come from behind to enforce its presence on any favourite list, and the acoustic piece, which I have to say is my least favourite for now. Let's see if that changes a few more listens from now, because I'm not turning this off repeat any time soon.