Allow me to kick off this review with an apology. Monolith Cult’s new record Gospel of Despair was originally released in November of last year and got lost in the year-end shuffle that invariably overtakes the blog for the last few months of the year. Missing some incredible music during these months is a fairly reliable source of collateral damage in the album review department. This album was unfortunately one of these casualties. For waiting so long to review this gem, I do humbly apologize. But here we are, a few months late but no less enthusiastic about this wonderfully epic doom record. So without any further delay, let’s dive in.
There are several striking aspects of Monolith Cult’s sophomore outing that become apparent right off the bat. First is the crunchy, powerful guitar tone, which is just one component of the whole that is the excellent production aesthetic on this record. The production choices here are almost uniformly good, and particularly so in the axe section. The drums have enough heft and prominence in the mix to live up to the doom name, while the bass and guitars meld smoothly throughout (with the bass’ sometimes buried melodies serving as the only potential knock on the mix from me). With such skill behind the board, it would be a shame if the music didn’t live up to this delightfully crunchy and thick sonic template. Thankfully, the payoff in these songs is clear from the opening seconds of the album’s first track. The opening riff of “Disconnection Syndrome” pulls both tonal and compositional inspiration from Mastodon’s “High Road”, though pushing this sound into an overall heavier aesthetic fitting for an epic doom record. The word epic is appropriate here, because this is not doom in the vein of other UK stalwarts like Conan. While the album is most certainly a heavy hitter, the songwriting here emphasizes vocalist Bry Outlaw’s absolutely fantastic voice in equal measure to the pounding instrumentation. If there is any particular portion of this record that gives it the “epic” moniker it has to be his fantastic performance in every single track here. Outlaw’s soaring clean vocals pull in elements of traditional heavy metal vocal stylings, creating a fantastic counterpoint to the thundering music. If you like the sound of your Candlemass being dipped into a boiling pot of Spirit Adrift, Gospel of Despair is your jam.
The musical high notes established by the album’s opener are perpetuated through “The Gospel of Despair”, “Kings of All That’s Lost”, “Sympathy for the Living”, and “Death Means Nothing”. Which, in a strange way, is one of the album’s few drawbacks. On the whole, this is a fundamentally cohesive record. Which on the whole is typically a very good thing. But these tracks in particular all share such deep sonic similarities that it can sometimes be difficult to separate them from one another. The lyrics for each of these tracks tell different stories, and there are plenty of new and tasty riffs to sink one’s teeth into, but it is impossible to deny that there are some fairly stark uniformities in these songs, which can serve as a bit of a distraction. But this would be a far more problematic issue if the sounds contained on these tracks were anything less than fantastic. That isn’t an issue here, as the music is just too damn delectable to let some potentially overbearing uniformity detract too deeply from the experience. It is such an enjoyable listen that I have a hard time imagining the above being anything more than a minor distraction for most doom fans.
While doom metal has had its own minor resurgence over the past few years, albums within this slowest and heaviest of metal subgenres rarely touch the epic territory that Monolith Cult reach for here. By incorporating traditional heavy metal vocal tropes, some excellent musicianship, and consistently engaging songwriting into a heavy whirlpool of doomy goodness, Monolith Cult avoid becoming just another UK doom band by creating a record that feels vibrant and energetic while maintaining strict discipline in their performances. A sure end of year highlight, and one that I have revisited many times since my initial listen. When it comes to epic doom, 2018 has a lot to live up to. Monolith Cult are a young band to watch, and I look forward to many more albums in the future.
Gospel of Despair was released November 17th, 2017 and is streaming on all major services and is available for purchase through Transcending Records.