There are a few geographic locations that are intrinsically tied to the music they helped spawn and cultivate. Norway for black metal in the nineties. San Francisco for thrash in the eighties. The State of Florida for old school and progressive death metal. While the extent of the influence of these areas is obviously up for interpretation, it would be folly to downplay the significant role bands from these areas played in shaping entire subgenres of music within the metal sphere. Residing in the latter of these locales, Orlando residents Monotheist have been wielding a mightily impressive and progressive death metal sound for the past several years. Heralding back in sound and aesthetic to subgenre giants and fellow Floridians Atheist and Cynic, Monotheist’s long-awaited debut full-length Scourge finds the band expertly blending the elements of the historical scene from which they both geographically and sonically originate. But this album is far from a carbon copy of the classics. Scourge is the sound of a band coming into their own, revering the works of the past while not being afraid to push their music in bold musical and thematic directions. In case it isn’t clear by now, this record is quite good.
Regarding the band’s sound, the above-mentioned Florida scene is a great place to start. While the band follow in the footsteps of the more progressive track of death metal from the early Florida scene, the harsh and heavy, sometimes Azagothian guitar work can herald back to mid-career Morbid Angel, coupled with the blistering, destructive heft of early Suffocation. There are blackened elements here as well, fitting in seamlessly with the swirling, start-stop nature of the album’s more progressive sections, adding a razor sharp edge to the proceedings. Jazz elements, as is tradition, also find their way into multiple tracks, with Prophet’s saxophone and the flute work of Lamentations‘ Danny Jacob flute peppering these compositions with a rich and varied sonic flair. On paper, all of these disparate themes and sounds could either fit together like so many pieces of a complex puzzle or result in an absolute trainwreck of unfocused self-indulgence. While there are most certainly moments of instrumental grandeur that take up fairly large chunks of an already long record, these sounds on the whole mix together incredibly well, creating a prism of death metal-infused tracks that are as varied as they are heavy hitting.
Those unsure of how all these elements could coalesce into something more than a jumbled mess of influences need look no further than the “The Grey King”, which kicks off the album with a shot of sheer brutality that is as ear-grabbing as they come. The vocals on the track, performed across the album by Shiv but here also accompanied by Christian Alvestam, reach Cryptopsy levels of brutal with deep, guttural bursts accentuating the ever-shifting and relentlessly heavy guitar and drum work. Now would be a good time to mention the production on the record as well, which is across the board very nicely done. Prophet and T. McDaniel’s guitars (especially some ripping solos) can be clearly deciphered in the midst of a rhythm onslaught, courtesy of C. Bates’ drums and J. Figueroa on bass. It’s the type of production work that makes one feel as if they’re in the middle of a fist fight through the duration of the record’s heavier bits, but provides enough space in the mix for the slower, more emotionally dense sections to be experienced in all their immense power. Such moments come frequently, courtesy of tracks like “The Great Chain at the Neck of the Earth”, instrumental prelude “Mark of the Beast I: The Image”, and “Infinite Wisdom”, which each provide a showcase for the band’s emotive and raw musical talent. Each of the performances on this record are fantastic, with nary a weak-link in the lot.
That isn’t to say that the album is flawless. Like most debut records, there are a few kinks in the armor, mainly regarding some sections feeling unnecessarily elongated. With a runtime that eclipses the hour mark, the record can feel a bit self-indulgent. But this is an incredibly minor complaint, mainly because the music in these sections is so good that its lack of necessity is typically consumed by how awesome it sounds. While I tend to appreciate more brevity in this type of death metal (which, if we’re being honest, is a fairly uncommon trait in the subgenre in general), Monotheist maximizes their debut’s runtime by incorporating almost too many ideas to fit into one outing. A fairly paltry criticism for such a titanic and massively enjoyable record.
With their debut record, Monotheist have stepped boldly into the realm where legends walk. This is a risky move on multiple fronts, but Scourge creates a balancing act of reverence and forward-thinking songwriting that seamlessly blends the best elements of the past and present into a musical journey that points toward a bright and unique future. I’m immensely impressed with this record, and cannot wait to see where Monotheist goes next. With this level of talent and songwriting skill in tow, it is difficult to imagine Monotheist not becoming one of the premier acts in progressive death metal. If the best bits of Scourge are any indication, they already are. A fantastic debut record from a band on the threshold of a career of greatness.
Scourge will be released on March 16th through Prosthetic Records, and is available for pre-order on digital and physical formats through the band’s Bandcamp page.