Coming two years after concluding the tour cycle for 2017’s Rust, No Comfort is the fourth full length studio album by Monolord, the Swedish doom metal trio.
A subtle but unmistakable difference can be heard between the two bodies of work. Bearing a sonic resemblance to its title, Rust had more of a metallic tone of production, with sharper guitars and drums, and the vocals of guitarist Thomas Jäger being right upfront in the mix. Every crashing cymbal was preserved with high-fidelity, slicing through amplifiers atop a pounding mass of snare, tom and bass drum hits. Through being involved in a journey of rediscovery and innovation, as young artists often are, bassist Mika Häkki, drummer Esben Willems and Jäger have now birthed a different beast.
At the beginning of Rust, Where Death Meets the Sea immediately jolted the listener awake. Two years later, the first riff of The Bastard Son is an attempt at hypnosis with thick, seismic sludge, lulling one into a deep state of subconscious meditation. If Rust comes across as a commercial metal album, No Comfort harks back to the murky early years of 2014’s Empress Rising, a return trip to the primordial cult doom of six years prior. This is what Monolord were cutting their teeth on in Gothenburg.
Through either the influence of a new producer, a nostalgic yearning for earlier sounds, or an insidious impression from certain contemporaries, No Comfort regains an organic live sound that is translated onto record. The dynamic range is larger than what we hear on Rust. Firstly, Jäger’s trademark clean vocals are further away in the mix, though they’re still coated in pseudo-gospel reverb. The sound of Willems’ drums is slightly more muddy and less-defined, edging back from the gargantuan chasm of riff borne from devoted amplifier worship, industrial strength mechanical manufacturing and impossibly down-tuned guitars with tough, thick strings. It is here where Monolord make a difference, through a unique creative approach that transforms the band into more than the sum of its parts. If fronted by a vocalist with the sound of a smoke-damaged, booze-soaked throat or piercing black metal screams, such as a band like Weedeater or Iron Monkey, the cavernous crunch of of reverberating vocals and guitars might blur into a mess of tones and discordant distortion. Instead, Jäger’s clear, ethereal vocals contrast starkly with the guitars as something for our ears to reach for.
Pulling our minds through thundering layers of amplification, we progress through these six long, slow songs as gradual spiritual cleansing takes place through undistracted focus. Similar to witnessing the shocking natural beauty of an avalanche or tidal wave, or the man-made triumph of the space-shuttle shown on the album cover, the experience of listening to tracks like The Last Leaf shake us to our core but ultimately leaves us amazed at the power and force of this group. Blasting the listener clean while giving our minds comfort in the sound of Jäger’s soaring vocals, we centre our attention on his mesmerising voice while unconsciously taking in every rumbling note or descending chord pattern. Interesting moments of minimalism can be heard throughout this album, such as an instrumental guitar-based passage of descending chug at the end of Larvae. Reminiscent of a trio like Boris, Monolord prove that music can sometimes speak more volumes with no vocals. Like Conan, Monolord also take deep riffs and seem to pitch-shift them to remarkable new lows over vague verse lyrics, rather than finding a different guitar part to pair with the vocals. This is also a feature of Larvae, proving the piece to be the strongest track on the album.
Unless Monolord choose to let us absorb their pure instrumentation, we have no choice but to slow our thinking to the sound of Jäger’s voice. A strange kind of hypnotism or spiritual connection is thus achieved, drawing on following his calming singing through a maelstrom of expertly composed riffs. A combination of odd tunings and uniquely chosen notes further elevates this music, with certain guitar parts transporting one’s mind into an ancient European realm of forest and fantasy. These are all things that set Monolord apart from an endless field of Black Sabbath worshippers, reinforcing the fact that this trio are one of the heaviest bands in the modern scene.
Heavy music isn’t about complex rhythmic extremity, blasphemous, vulgar lyrics or mentally-disturbed elements of Satanism. It’s about music with gravity, a sonic force that carries physical weight. Although Monolord’s sound hasn’t really changed since their debut album, they maintain their music as a distinctly acquired taste that will never fail to satisfy the tastebuds of the initiated. Despite what the album title may have you believe, we can find a lot of comfort in that.
The Bastard Son
The Last Leaf