Monuments – ‘In Stasis’

By Ian Kenworthy

One way to put pressure on yourself is to call your band Monuments. It’s a name that makes you think of a towering, dominant band whose music will last the ages, and it’s a name the UK band have spent the last ten years trying to live up to. Releasing three albums and playing high on festival bills it’s clear they’re talented, and the addition of new vocalist Andy Cizek gives them more talent to work with. So for album number four they have pushed themselves, using new song-writing styles and working with outside artists to make something special, something monumental. And yet, they have named this progressive metal record ‘In Stasis’ – you’d think they would have learned by now.

Despite the name implying sterility, this is a reinvention of the band’s sound. There is a lot to like about it and at the risk of sounding cliché, it’s heavier and more melodic than their previous outings. Guitarist John Browne unloads a crushingly heavy riffs on ‘Collapse’ and furious high notes on ‘Cardinal Red’ – while both are very different, they show an unparalleled intensity. Better yet, the vicious slides that define ‘Makeshift Harmony’ are inventive and genuinely thrilling. Throughout the record, there are a wealth of interesting ideas bolted on the underlying djent sound in ways that gives each song a different feel, be it the swift breakdown on ‘Arch Essence’ or the atmospheric, slightly ominous opening to ‘The Cimmerian’.

Even though ‘Somnus’ and ‘False Providence’ lean back toward the lilting feel of their earlier records, revisiting the sound only shows off their progression, especially as the songs are infused with a few delicate electronics, adding texture without intruding on the overall feel. In many ways, it is refreshing to hear the djent guitar tones threaded through songs like ‘Cardinal Red’ but this has the unintended consequence of making the more direct ‘No One Will Teach You’ sound lacklustre, an effect heightened by the airy vocal.

Compare to 2018’s ‘Phronesis’ and mixing engineer George Lever has given the record a sharper, more flowing sound and it’s surprising just how indulgent the interlocking bass and drum sound is. Through a quality set of speakers, Adam Swan’s bass is so deep and fluid it could have been dredged off the seabed. It makes for a less abrasive tone and suits the music’s wider palette, making the whole experience feel like a distinct new chapter.

In many ways Cizek‘s  presence, working style and vocal presentation have rebooted the band. His greater scope allows them to push their work in different directions to that under previous vocalist Chris Barretto. Paradoxically, this makes their work seem little less distinctive but, in many ways, it seems a worthwhile trade. Being both a fantastic singer and vicious screamer, Cizek effortlessly switches styles to suit the music, elevating every song and they often seem designed to amplify his talents. Even when he throws in unexpected choices on ‘Cardinal Red’ the results prove effective. Both ‘Opiate’ and ‘False Providence’ give him a chance to show off his lofty voice but on ‘Collapse’ his screeching is genuinely frightening. In contrast on ‘Somnus’, the refrain of ‘I’ll never sleep’ is used to really supercharge the chorus and creating the album’s biggest hook. Almost every song feels like he’s trying something different, making for a powerful if slightly eclectic mix and you can’t help but wonder if a little more restraint might have better served the album’s overall feel.

Lyrically Cizek uses a mix of shorter guttural observations and higher-minded soul-searching. Both are interchangeable; he’s just as likely to scream about being a caged animal as monochrome cannibals depending upon the song’s structure and it’s telling that he doesn’t just save his prophetic musings for the loftier musical parts. They might be abstract but you can easily read meaning into his words and compared to some they don’t leave you feeling cold.

On ‘Lavos’ the band worked with composer Mick Gordon (Doom soundtrack) and this was another worthwhile experiment, also showing their willingness to push themselves. It’s a hard-hitting track, and though it does feel different to those around it, it fits with the overall flow. And yet, despite so much effort reinventing themselves, one foot lingers in the past. Nowhere is this more apparent than their choice of guest vocalists; One is Neema Askari, literally the band’s original singer. The other is Spencer Sotelo, a singer whose work is clearly of great influence. You can see why they made these choices and both offer good performances. However, although Cizek is easily in the same class, Sotelo’s presence casts a shadow over the song that muddies what should be a clear-cut classic. More might have been achieved by choosing someone with a different voice or perspective.

Ironically the name ‘In Stasis’ is the anthesis of what their new record is. Monuments have rebuilt themselves from the ground up and, although their ambitions can obscure the overall picture, it is a relentlessly inventive album designed to last.

IAN KENWORTHY

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