One of the most appealing aspects of doom metal is its relative simplicity. Unconcerned with the breakneck tempos of grind, the technical necessity of trash and death, or the atmospherics (and, often, the aesthetics) of black metal, doom is largely content to let the genre’s music speak for itself. Of course, it helps to have the amp wattage to all but forcibly compel heads to nod but, at the end of the day, the riff is the riff and doom will live or die by the power of the riff alone. There’s something vaguely traditional in that simplicity: a reverent confidence that the power of one gnarly guitar line, repeated burgeoningly and ad nauseum, can transcend the need for other genre trappings and transfix a listener into zoned-out bliss. Generally speaking, doom worships no god but the riff and Monolord are here to spread that gospel.
Hailing from Gothenburg, Sweden, Monolord are masters of no-frills, impossibly heavy, hypnotically repetitive doom. Honing their craft on two previous – and uniformly excellent – full-lengths, Monolord have reached the apex of their sound with their latest album Rust. Taken as a whole, Rust stands firmly upon the impressive foundation the band already established via Empress Rising and Vænir and simply keeps building. No fundamental change in sound, no unexpected spotlight-stealing guest spots, no questionable genre blending. Instead, Rust doubles (or is it triples?) down on fundamentals: slow but crushing drums, rumbling, spectrum-devouring bass, and, of course, riffs upon riffs that are carved out of the buried bones in some far-away, “forgotten lands.” This is doom that doesn’t need to get dressed up, either the riffs carry the day or they don’t.
Spoiler alert: they do. From the opening notes of “Where Death Meets the Sea,” it’s clear that Monolord are vaulting for “riff of the year” territory, a place scarcely trod or even searched for since the band previously stomped the same hallowed ground on Vænir’s “Cursing the One.” “Death” kicks the record off with an explosive, happily familiar bang: a slinky, neck soreness-inducing main riff, Thomas Jäger’s shimmery, slightly affected clean vocals, and a muscular, propulsive rhythm section rounding out the heaviness. Rust’s lead single and title track is much in the same vein. After a creepy organ and vocal intro, the full band crashes into the track with such a heaviness that one is left concerned about the structural integrity of one’s stereo speakers. Such is the cost of doing business in the land of Doom.
Special attention should be paid to “Dear Lucifer.” The single-minded intensity and focus on the riff discussed above isn’t just scene blustering. For Monolord, it’s the band’s raison d’etre. Structured as a conflicted, lamenting love letter of sorts to the Dark One himself, “Dear Lucifer” finds Monolord making peace with the fact that the only thing that matters, at least for a band, is the music. Nothing is more sacred than the riff: no god, no demon, no scene. Satan has always played a special inspirational place in the world of metal, and doom is certainly no exception. But even if a Faustian bargain is what brought band members together to create heavy music, “Dear Lucifer” recognizes that remaining attached – aesthetically, spiritually, inspirationally – to idols is a recipe for artistic stagnation and failure. Writing a break-up letter to Satan to tell him you don’t “believe anymore” could easily turn hokey in the hands of a lesser band, but Monolord rise to the challenge to craft something surprisingly poignant and wise – and heavy.
Rust feels like the natural culmination of everything Monolord has created up to this point. It’s their most focused and streamlined record and yet it sacrifices nothing in the way of heaviness or artistic vision. The band has never sounded clearer or more energized and Rust seems ready to propel the band beyond their position as highly respected underground doom titans into the upper echelons of heavy metal esteem writ large. And who could argue? Monolord’s purity of vision, thundering execution, and grounded nature make them an easy team to root for and, in Rust, the band has created their most compelling and accessible record to date.
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Rust is available September 29, 2017 via Riding Easy Records