First of all, Monolord is a great band name. I can’t believe it took until 2013 for a band to grab that name. And grab it this Gothenburg trio did. While we didn’t review their slightly overhyped debut, Empress Rising, our beloved Roquentin took a look at 2015’s follow-up, Vænir, and liked what he heard. Monolord, as a name, suits these guys perfectly, as they are beholden to only one lord, and that is the Lord of the Riff. Since they hit the scene they’ve been bringing massive, fuzzy variations of Black Sabbath/Electric Wizard worship to the table. Not spectacularly original, but well-crafted and tasty songs that satisfy the doom/sludge/stoner fans amongst us. And now with their third album in four years, Rust, the band looks to keep that momentum going. Can they do it, or will oxidation take its toll?
Well, if it ain’t broken don’t fix it, and Monolord don’t fix anything on Rust. It follows the same template as Vænir did, and does so perfectly. That means if you loved Vænir you’ll love Rust, and if not, well, there’s lots of music out there for everyone. “Where Death Meets the Sea” kicks things off with, yes, an incredibly massive, monolithic, and every other big m-word riff. Take a ponderous, sludgy Black Sabbath riff, throw on the biggest fuzz pedal this side of Fu Manchu, and let ‘er rip. Thomas Jäger sounds like he’s singing in another room, with big reverb and slap echoes drenching his voice. But this isn’t a record where the voice takes priority: it’s the guitars we’ve come to hear (also Jäger), and they are gloriously out front. And if you weren’t sure about that, how about the intro to “Dear Lucifer,” which takes distortion to an eardrum-shredding level.
The six songs on Rust are split evenly between epic-length and short-ish. “Where Death Meets the Sea” and the excellent title track, with its ominous organ intro, are sub-six minutes, while the albums lone throwaway number, the uninspired instrumental “Wormland,” clocks in just past six minutes. On the other end of the spectrum are the two songs closing out the album, “Forgotten Lands” and “At Niceae,” together drilling riffage into our heads for nearly half an hour. The former breaks up the monotony of the riff with a psychedelic jam in the middle, while the latter does so with a couple minutes of lone guitarwork and a fadeout to acoustic strumming and effects-laden singing. Both on their own are stellar efforts, but one after the other in succession tests the limits of our patience.
With fuzz dominating the mix more than an actual instrument, it can be hard to focus on the layers beneath — that is, the performances on the instruments. But blocking Jäger’s guitar from the mind for a while unearths a solid, driving rhythm section, again taking its queue from Electric Wizard. Mika Häkki walks a fine line between underpinning the proceedings with drummer Esben Willems and providing some tasty interplay with the guitars via thick, roiling bass lines. The chemistry of the trio is palpable and helps offset some of the sameness that can sneak in as we listen to a riff for eight, twelve, or fifteen minutes. All that distortion can also take frequencies away from other instruments, but here the drums and bass do manage to be heard, although not quite with the bottomend we may have hoped for — that’s reserved for the guitars.
As they’ve shown since coming on the scene a few years ago, Monolord know what they do best, and they stick to it. I could easily have taken Roquentin’s excellent review of Vænir and just changed the name to Rust, and you’d have the same understanding of what’s going on here. Meaning if you’re into Monolord’s sludgy, fuzzy riffage, you’re going to love Rust. It’s a solid slab of doom and aside from “Wormland,” its biggest fault is the monotony that can accompany the style, especially in super-long songs. Lose yourself in the riffs and you’ll be perfectly at home in Rust.