19 Jun 2017

Monasterium - S/T (No Remorse Records - 2016)

Monasterium is the side-project of a couple of the mysterious members of Evangelist and both these bands feature many of the same elements. What Monasterium has to offer that Evangelist has not got already is a slight pivot towards the realm of heavy metal, not a far leap from the safety of Epic Doom Metal, but an ever so effective one non the less. This self-titled debut starts- and ends strong, with a slight dip in the middle and features very fine bass work throughout.

I've been a fan of Evangelist since the release of their second album "Doominicanes" in 2013, and have been eagerly awaiting a follow-up as I felt that album was stronger than their debut. While I don't know how many of the Evangelist members are involved in Monasterium, other than that they obviously share the same vocalist, due to Evangelist deciding be one of these anonymous acts of late. I was still excited to see a new album released from the same creative minds.

Monasterium sure chose the right song to open the album. "Christening in Blood" is a very effective number with incredibly heavy riffs that even manages to get to the first chorus before the time meter hits the minute mark, a remarkable feat for a doom metal band if anything. It also doesn't take long to hear that vocalist Michał Strzelecki is an obvious fan of Messiah of Candlemass fame, and no one can blame a doom metal vocalist for this. Though Michał's vocals does sound a bit "throaty" and almost at the brink of being strained at times. Luckily he seems to be very aware of where his limit lays and never bites of more than he can chew, even though it sounds like he is very close to at certain times. When he hits the notes in the line "a lost offering of life" in the chorus, it is with a great passion and seriously goose-bump inducing. A special mention needs to be made of Filip Malinowski bass work as well, who doesn't fear doing his own thing behind the wall of riffing guitars instead of just following the rhythm guitar, neither here or in any of the other songs. Which is something that plagues doom metal of this type, and metal in general. Filip does instead seem to have taken a page from Geezer Butler's great book of bass playing, rather than Leif Edling's (there's truly enough of Leif to be heard on this album anyway).

"A Hundredfold Cursed" opens with power chord riffing, and we get better insight in the instrumentation that Monasterium has to offer with a dynamic shift into the clean verse, with even more great bass lines. The drum production fits this dynamic composition very well, and has a sound that can carry both heavy riffing, clean interludes and double bass lines, all demonstrated in this song. The chorus here is far from as powerful as the song before, but somber and languishing, even more so towards the end of the song where they scale things down to bare minimum. I tend to more often get the double bass riff that follows the chorus stuck in my head rather than the actual chorus.

Dirty sounding guitars lead into "The Pharisee's Tongue", playing a dissonant chord before proceeding into another power chord onslaught. This song has a good drive to it, and features exciting drums  and energetic vocals in the verses, I am however not a fan of the dissonant elements to the guitars in this track, which kind of kills it for me. The guitar solos could also use some work, as they get the job done but doesn't really raise any eyebrows neither here on or the rest of the album, with a few exceptions.

Tribal drums echo under ominous synthesizers as we enter "In the Shrine of the Jackal God" and are treated to the heaviest riff on the whole album. Monasterium then dives into an oriental sounding heavy metal riff that fit's the theme of the track just perfectly. And when the first word of the line "twelve names of the demons" hits, shivers run down my spine. With a bit more energetic chorus this would have bumped down the opening track as my favorite track on the album, but now falls a bit flat. The guitar solo on here reaches the highest point of the album, with some extra harmonies and even more middle-eastern sounding melodies. Guitarist Tomasz Gurgul seem to do his best lead work when keeping it simple and effective.

Things pick up again with the monumentally titled "In Hoc Signo Vinces", another track leaning toward the heavy metal-side of things with a jumpy riff and somewhat upbeat attitude. The lighthearted demeanor is quickly rectified though when the crushing verse rumbles into the song like a slow-motion avalanche. What I have yet to mention is how much I like Monasteriums lyrics, which are very well written. Especially in regard that English is not their first language, or is even taught in regular school programming in Poland to my knowledge and speech in foreign movies is overdubbed to Polish.

"I will tremble the walls of Rome, in the Orient I will raise my throne
All the west I reclaimed and Byzantium shall carry my name
Apparition in heaven above, divine light descending like a dove
This God I invoke, to perdition I sentenced my foes" 

That's some well-written stuff if I've ever seen it. This song has an excellent chorus, beautiful clean interludes and a short and effective solo, even if Tomasz tries some flasher stuff. Do yourself a favor and go listen to it, as it is available for streaming both on the Monasterium's YouTube channel and their bandcamp page.

"Moloch's Uprising" takes the tempo down again into doomier realms, but sadly disappears a bit among the other strong finishing tracks on the album. However, since this is not an overly long album, which actually clocks in on the rather perfect forty minutes and the song itself is the shortest on the album it doesn't disrupt much and gives you a chance to take a breath and gather your thoughts before the finish. "Moloch's Uprising" feature parts that are what I usually call "Iron Man-esque" where the vocals and guitar work in unison on the same melody, this is something that I rarely appreciate. Luckily the whole song is not written like this.

Finally we ascend "Into the Mountain of Power", a Conan - The Barbarian inspired number (the movie, not the short stories), and I am all for that. A bass intro leads into this full blown heavy metal epic, which draws to mind Manowar's more grandeur moments, like "Gates of Valhalla", "March for Revenge" or even "Battle Hymn". Michał even gives his best shot at a falsetto scream á la Eric Adams in the end, which I would gladly welcome more of. Drummer Maciej Berniak experiments with some interesting tom work and syncopation in this track, and it all feels very tight and like the instrumentalists are well rehearsed and aware of what the other guys are doing instead of just focusing on their own parts.

Lets call this is a very good "debut" from Monasterium, even though at least some of the guys have released albums together in the same genre before. It features a very good production overall with a clearly audible bass (thank the gods of doom that we don't miss any of these bass lines), excellent drum sound, clear vocals and crisp guitars. The lyrics are very well written, although Michał's accent takes a bit getting used to if you haven't listened to eastern European bands before. The guitar solos could use a bit of work from time to time, but always gets the job done. No one can complain over the quality of the guitar riffing and song composition though. Monasterium's self-titled album shall conquer in the sign of: 7,8/10

Monasterium on Facebook
Monasterium on Bandcamp

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