Monarch – Future Shock Review

Another week, another contest contestant, this time in the form of San Diego thrashers Monarch, winners of the 2019 Wacken Metal Battle USA. That’s better than a Participant ribbon! Led by guitarists Casey Trask and Matt Smith (who also serves as vocalist), Monarch’s style harkens back to the early days of thrash, with plenty of punky attitude and silly subject matter yet loads of technical skill. After 2017’s debut Go Forth…Slaughter, the band played a ton of gigs, honed their songwriting skills, and went into the studio (rather than the debut’s DIY approach) to craft Future Shock, an album they hope is a big step forward. Is it?

There’s a decent amount of variety in the material on Future Shock, from Slayer-like blasts of speedy thrash to the nasty groove of Pantera. Standout tracks “Blast the Seed” and “Shred or Die!” hit hard and fast, with energy, enthusiasm, and plenty of talent. “Shred or Die!” in particular has obviously been played a lot; the arrangement is really strong and the song is catchy as hell. “Khaos Warrior” is more of a grinding, growling song, where the rumbling bass and drums maintain the groove as the guitars slink and wind their way around each other. Album closer “Metal Soul” is another top-notch song, featuring a stellar power metal riff that moves into thrash mode on occasion. Much like “Shred or Die!” and the also-strong title track, “Metal Soul” is a song that in theory I could throw onto a “Thrash Highlights” playlist, if not for some glaring issues.

The star of the show is Matt Smith on guitar (but not so much on vocals), who had the biggest hand in the songwriting process and whose classical training often shines through in the solos.1 He’s definitely a fretboard whiz. Partner Casey Trask is also excellent, and they trade off solos like the best of the old-timers. Drummer Adam West is a blistering talent despite an awful-sounding kit, and Gabe Mendez is also strong on bass. Musically, these guys are pretty good. Bad production, rough singing, and some poor lyrical choices hold them back. The band may have talked about an improvement over the DIY production of their debut, but the work done by Sean Tolley at, ironically enough, Clarity Recordings, is a far cry from good. The pock-pock drum sounds make me think of my Tupperware cupboard, and many of the guitar tones sound as though a blanket was thrown over the cabs. The poor production does a massive disservice to some otherwise strong songwriting.

Lyrics fit in with the old-school vibe as well, and there will be no literary awards handed out here. Tackling subjects as far-ranging as Dragonball Z and Futurama to whores and whore hornets, Monarch leave no stone unturned when it comes to inane lyrics. In fact, the song “Swarm of the Whorenet” contains the word “whore” roughly fifty times, along with other gems such as “maximum penetration,” “bleed n’ breed,” and “creaming deceiving the whore.” Well done, lads. Twelve year old me loves this song. Vocals have potential, but are pretty raw. Vocally Matt Smith has charisma, but maybe just needs more practice. His performance is rough, which is great for old-school thrash, but too raw at times.

This is a tough one. On the one hand, there is a lot of strong material here. More than half the songs are actually pretty killer, and the band are top-notch musicians. But the production is barely above the previous album’s DIY level and the vocals are too rough, making Future Shock an album I likely won’t be returning to. Monarch are a strong producer and a couple more solid songs away from crafting something truly memorable.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320kbps mp3
Label: Self-released
Websites: | https:// |
Release Worldwide: April 16th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. Apparently in his former bands Smith would drop Yngwie Malmsteen solos during soundcheck.
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