REVIEW: MONUMENTS – “Phronesis”
Monuments, a British progressive metal band, arrived on stage a few years ago with their debut, ‘Gnosis’. It combined the raw energy and vocal delivery in metalcore bands with the hard-hitting chugs and extended riffing present in Meshuggah, for example; and throwing in a bit of TesseracT-inspired atmospheres for good measure. Their second LP, ‘The Amanuensis’, saw the induction of Chris Baretto, a popular vocalist in the genre, into the band. The album has some spectacular tracks – The riffing on “I, The Creator” and “Origin of Escape” is noteworthy. Baretto grabbed his role as the front-man with aplomb and his vocal delivery, especially during cleans, work very well with John Browne’s writing. A few inconsistencies persist from the first album, particularly in its midsection; the band do have room for improvement. The new album, ‘Phronesis’, to be released on October 5th, features previously-touring drummer Daniel Lang as a permanent one after Anup Sastry quit the band in 2016.
The first impression you get from the album is that it is softer than the previous ones. Cleans run the show on close to all the choruses, and even alternate from soft-spoken phrases to slightly-modulated, post-hardcore sounding delivery from track to track. This might be a new feature that we may come to expect from the band in the future, because it is prevalent in the entirety of this album. The pre-release “A.W.O.L” is a good example of this dichotomy working well, with the chorus sounding like Dance Gavin Dance in its catchiness as harshes echo in the background. It even sounds a bit like Linkin Park’s early material, a similarity noticeable on “Stygian Blue” too. Other alike vocal tidbits are present on the bridge (pun unintended) of “Mirror Bridge”, with its ‘too-too’ harmonies, and on the chorus and intro of “Celeste”.
The best song on the album is “Jukai”, a mostly clean track that catches the ear with its poppy chorus complementing adept picking on the bass and a subtler guitar picking technique. Unlike the recent Dance Gavin Dance effort however, who seem to have perfected the clean-harsh poppy mashup, the inconsistency from track to track in the catchiness on ‘Phronesis’ reflects on what the band still needs to work on.
The instrumentation on the album follows ‘The Amanuensis’ but tones down on the consistent heaviness, opting for a more balanced approach. “A.W.O.L” in that sense is more loyal to the older material, but ‘Hollow King” and ‘Ivory” are content with more generic riffing. This may come as a big letdown for fans of their heavier material, as it did for me: It is missing some of the humongous-sounding, yet technical sequences that the previous album had in abundance. Fans searching for that sound might be better off checking the new Greyhaven effort. There are still pleasant features to latch on to: “Vanta” has a strong central riff while the screeching guitars are a nice touch. The excellent outro sequence of “The Watch”, with the double bass on the drums complementing the fast-picked guitars, would get surely get the crowd going when performed live. The riffs on the choruses of several tracks latch on well to the vocals. There a few keys interspersed in the album, perhaps most evident on the piano outro of “Vanta”. The drumming is adequate with the best bits being on the outro of “Jukai”, while “Mirror Image” and “Jukai” (again) give the bass space to breathe.
The sound is mostly adequate: The guitars are distinct throughout while the layering of vocals is achieved with near-perfect precision. The bass gets in and out of the mix and sounds slightly craggy when it does, while the drums sound a little too compressed from what I can discern. It overall doesn’t sound very dynamic though and might take a hit on the DR charts. A final note on the lyrics, as few of the ones on the album are supposed to feature a few personal touches, ‘Stygian Blue’ being the one explicitly cited by the band. They didn’t really strike me as being any better than your average core band. I mean, phrases such as “Leave me the fuck alone” don’t even attempt to keep things understated.
‘Phronesis’ may prove to be more of a transitional effort by Monuments as they attempt a softer sound, or they may start all over again and head back to their older sound; It remains to be seen which direction they opt for. Ultimately, I would only recommend the album to the band’s most faithful followers or to those specifically trying to get into the band, as it is their most accessible. Monuments’ third full-length ‘Phronesis’ is an accessible entry for fans into the band’s catchy djent-core sound.