Assumptions. No matter how hard we try not to make them, we always end up drawing conclusions about something without checking it out beforehand. In this case, with a description in our promo list as “melodic death metal,” and seeing that they hail from Sweden, I grabbed Monolith of the Malign, the debut album from Pale King, expecting some twin-guitar Gothenburg melodies. And man, was I off. After much investigation, Pale King is a side-project of Jonny Pettersson and Håkan Stuvemark of long-running death-dealers Wombbath, aiming to capture an old-school melodic death metal feel, but with modern-day songwriting chops. So is this melodic death metal worthy of praise, or is this “melodic” death metal that you’re better off avoiding?
It depends on how you want your melodic death metal served. Do you wish Amorphis kept the path that The Karelian Isthmus laid out? Do you yearn for classic Unleashed in your aural artillery? If so, Monolith of the Malign‘s got you covered. Opening with a melody that modern-day Rotting Christ would kill for, “The Last Hour” lays waste with pummeling drums, Pettersson’s raspy growl, and riffs piled upon tasty riffs. It doesn’t take long for the song to bury its hooks in you and drag you along for the ride. Pettersson and Stuvemark possess a knack for good riffs and melodic sections, making the song’s almost five-minute length feel like an adventure. Add Jon Rudin’s thundering drums and fills, and you too with be windmilling in approval.
That’s not to say that Monolith of the Malign isn’t varied. Both “Ominous Horrors” and “The Curse” have clean vocals buried in the mix during the chorus, adding a majestic air to the brutality. “Resurrected” sees the band dipping their toes into the same ritual chalice that Samael drank from in the early 90s, featuring a keyboard section that recalls Blood Ritual to amazing effect. And none of the eight songs overstay their welcome, which is a huge change of pace for a new band, whether or not they feature scene alumni. At a crisp, almost-40 minutes of total run time, the songs bludgeon and rage, incite thrown horns and banged heads, and then leave when it’s time to go. New bands around the world, learn from this.
But not all is rosey in the realm of the Monolith. The production is definitely a throwback to the sunny (Sunlighty?) days of yore. It’s heavy and (ahem) monolithic, especially where the drums are concerned. The drawback comes in the lack of dynamics and breathing space. Plainly put, this fucker is LOUD. Even at low volumes, any attempts at tremolo picking, such as in “The Last Hour,” results in a screechy, feedback-drenched blur. As such, bassist Hannah Gill gets lost in the mix more often than not. Also, the band loves to hang onto the anthemic parts of their repertoire to the point of exhausting their potency. That opening riff to “The Last Hour” is indeed monstrous and horn-throwy, but not when it’s repeated over and over again.
Despite its flaws, Monolith of the Malign showcases a promising path ahead for Pale King. If they can work on tightening the songwriting a bit, and not crank every setting to 11 in the studio, they will definitely level skulls in no time. If you miss the olden days of death metal with a pinch of the epic, you could do far worse than Monolith.