MONARCH! – Never Forever

Managing an album’s length is more than just a numbers game. As important as the song count and run time of a track list may be, an album’s experiential length is more closely linked to the content contained within each track. More specifically, this is defined not by the quality of an album’s ideas, but the quantity of those ideas, as well as their organization. As an example, consider your standard 20-ish minute, 20+ track grindcore album—though it may be shorter than most people’s morning commute, a band with the the most simple genre formula is introducing the listener to roughly two dozen song ideas, and if these ideas are executed poorly, the album is going to drag and lose its appeal despite presenting bite size compositions.

This isn’t relevant to Never Forever because it suffers from an ineffective length; to the contrary, MONARCH! (Monarch, from here on out), have crafted an album with perfect pacing and structure that enhances the impact of the record. But the band operate in a genre rife with overindulgence, as evident by the sheer number of doom and drone metal albums comprised of a handful of tracks that each rival the entirety of a grindcore album while presenting barely enough ideas to rise above being musical melatonin. There are plenty of exceptions, of course, Monarch being an excellent example even before Never Forever. The band’s debut 666 (2005) clocked at 86 minutes across three tracks, and virtually all of their songs scoff at the 10-minute mark (with many reaching even higher). Yet, what Never Forever accomplishes is something most drone metal bands can only crave to achieve. On their longest record in over a decade and one of their most greatest works to date, Monarch have challenged the notion of what drone metal can accomplish and why length and song structure are just as important as the compositions they contain.

At just shy of 68-minutes, Never Forever clocks in below 666‘s massive run time, as well as labelmate Bell Witch‘s upcoming 83-minute behemoth Mirror Reaper. But the album’s five-track bill is two more than the longest track list of Monarch’s back catalog, and the way the band takes advantage of this breathing room and elevates the impact this quintet of songs is able to make. Two quasi-interludes allow the three album-anchoring mammoths to soar higher, burrow deeper and generally establish themselves as all the more epic.

“Song to the Void” presents a droning soundscape akin to Have a Nice Life and Sunn O))) having a guitar battle, with the building roar of obscured, hazy melody cushioning Eurogirl’s meditative vocals. Her singing excels due to its inherent universality; her ethereal, alluring vocals could just as easily tie together a shoegaze chorus as it could accent a folk-heavy black metal passage. But perhaps her greatest asset is her versatility, which she showcases across the album’s second quasi-interlude, “Diamant Noir.” Weaving between spoken word, singing and a haunting mixture of the two, Eurogirl truly elevates the track beyond its solid foundation, which itself is worth highlighting. It’s vibe captures the essence of Pallbearer playing a somber funeral dirge for an entire coven’s decimation, presenting a pleasantly surprising level of traditional doom prowess from the band’s traditionally experimental approach to the doom formula.

These tracks are sound compositional additions to the album in their own right, but as structural devices, they excel at bolstering power of their surrounding tracks. “Song to the Void” provides needed respite after “Of Night, With Knives,” a twisted journey into Monarch’s darkest inspirations. The hellish soundscape distorts itself in seemingly endless shadows of the song’s structure, ranging from gurgling death doom riffs to crushing drones and chanted recitations to abyss-level growls. It’s a monstrous, twisted journey which unfolds beautifully across its 15-minute duration, never running its course prematurely nor grating on the listener’s patience. And with “Songs of the Void”as it’s unofficial outro, everything “Of Night, With Knives” accomplished has room to digest as the listener prepares to face “Cadaverine,” truly the soundtrack of a wretched man’s soul being yanked from his corpse. Roaring undertones of electroacoustic sound and strings provide an unsettling undercurrent for annihilating drones and Monarch’s signature approach to funeral doom, which retains the elongated darkness while leaving enough room to elevate or drown the dirge as needed. And while Eurogirl unleashes her full-body yells in “Of Night, With Knives,” they dominate with an especially commanding presence on “Cadaverine.”

After the darkness subsides for the calming, relative normalcy of “Diamant Noir,” the track decays into itself and allows “Lilith” to begin its grandeur. The song truly encapsulates everything that drone metal is capable of accomplishing—a glowing synth tone shines out from the trudging pace of riffs and percussion, as if to signify a soul’s embattled struggle for life. From there, the band capably shifts between their doom styles of choice, elongating their melodies for a funeral doom effect, darting left with a heavy death-doom-esque riff and then returning back for a massive wall-of-sound drone. There’s unlikely to be an unsatisfied ear by the time the song crashes into silence and the low hum of a muted drone gives way to the void.

Monarch have often operated in their own lane, being both outside doom metal norms due to their unique approach to songcraft while also excelling at every doom subgenre they choose to incorporate. Never Forever is not only no exception, but its incredibly effective structure defies one of doom metal’s longtime struggle with run time and makes for an even more substantial listen, both with its three towering statues and the two-block foundation that keeps them standing tall. Though run time may seemingly be a specific point to fixate on, many doom metal albums have crumbled due to a lack of worthwhile ideas and/or interludes that leave less of an impact and leave the main tracks stranded. Instead, Monarch nail the “all of the above” approach with compositions and quasi-interludes that present all of doom metal’s strengths with none of its weaknesses. And while Never Forever requires a significant investment of time, doom fans would be foolish not to reap the dividends guaranteed from that deposit.

Never Forever is available 9/22 via Profound Lore Records. The album can be purchased via the above Bandcamp embed.

"In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there's something stronger - something better - pushing right back." - Albert Camus