First of all, look at that cover. If that isn’t one of the most glorious pieces of album art, I don’t know what is. It reminds me ever so slightly of Dio’s old mascot, but JIRM don’t worship at that altar. No, the band formerly known as Jeremy Irons and the Ratgang Malibus play a groove-filled psych/stoner blend with plenty of progressive tendencies, and Surge Ex Monumentis is their first album under the shortened moniker. After three albums with their cumbersome old name. Why the name change? To distance themselves from a washed-up, mean old actor, or to just give us less to try and remember? And what else besides the name has changed?
Not much, really. JIRM’s last album, 2014’s Spirit Knife, was of similar style, and its eight songs took nearly an hour to plow through. Here on Surge Ex Monumentis we are treated to only seven songs, but they last even longer: 65 minutes, with four songs over ten minutes in length. The foursome blast off in relatively succinct fashion on “Candle Eyes,” the most immediate cut on the album. It quickly launches into a relentless gallop, leading us to believe we are in store for a high-energy trip. “Dig” is the longest song on the album, twelve minutes, and the first three are atmospheric meanderings that could have been pulled straight from 2001: A Space Odyssey. When the distorted bass line kicks in at the three-minute mark it is majestic, and “Dig” quickly found its way onto my Best Songs of 2018 playlist.
Unfortunately, JIRM can’t hold our attention this way throughout the album, and the songs that follow lack the urgency of “Candle Eyes” as well as the epic flow of “Dig.” The band is going for a heavy Pink Floyd feel here but without that knack for catchy songwriting, the longer numbers like “Isle of Solitude” and “Nature of the Damned” both fall short of the mark. They almost make up for it on the album closer “Tombs Arise,” which launches forth from the speakers with abandon, a fantastic riff kicking in within the first minute and gripping us for ten more after that. The quiet, menacing break halfway through is a perfect blend of space-rock and classic Pink Floyd trippiness. A modern band with similar style and appeal would be Elder, but the songs here aren’t up to the same standard.
Karl Apelmo has an interesting voice. I know he sounds familiar but I just can’t pin it down. One thing is for sure though, he’s nearly impossible to understand. I can pick up as many words in these songs as I could from Klaus Meine on the early Scorpions records. His style is best described as a mournful mumble, occasionally losing tonal control when he gets carried away, and yet it’s a style I enjoy. In fact, the overall sound of Surge Ex Monumentis is something that works for me, everything mixed aggressively with plenty of distortion, giving it a live feel that perfectly suits the drawn-out style.
But when you write such lengthy expositions, it can be hard to maintain the listener’s attention, and sadly, such is the case on Surge Ex Monumentis. When it’s good, it’s really good — “Candle Eyes” is a belter, “Dig” is a fantastic cut, and “Tombs Arise” ends the record in excellent fashion — but there are too many misses here to garner a stronger score. The other songs drag or amble without gripping us, and having half an album be great isn’t good enough to save the other half, leaving us with an average offering that has a number of high points, but ultimately JIRM have given us a record with plenty of potential but not enough staying power.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Small Stone Records
Websites: smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/surge-ex-monumentis | jirm.se | facebook.com/JeremyIronsandtheRatgangMalibus
Releases Worldwide: March 16th, 2018