There are a lot of factors that come into play when a person decides to pick up new music to listen to, but the band name is really the most important one. Take Monasterium, for example. The word, discontinued in today’s vernacular, could refer to either a monastery or a monk’s cell within a monastery in Medieval-era English. And, really, that’s all I needed to know before grabbing Church of Bones, the band’s sophomore effort, from the Promo Bin and letting it take over my week.
Monasterium play “epic heavy/doom metal” on Church of Bones, which here means “doom-influenced heavy metal.” Aesthetically, the doom feel is there. Tomasz Gurgul’s guitars have a deep, thick presence that resembles modern doom templates. The riffs he plays, however, fall closer to the heavy metal side of the spectrum. The riffing on Church of Bones are an easy album highlight, giving each song a unique and creative identity. “Ferrier of the Underworld” is an awesome example of this. When the track roars to life, I want little more than to raise an army and march on anyone foolish enough to stand in my way. “The Order of the Dragon” is energetic and smart, leaning the closest to traditional heavy metal structures without feeling out-of-place on the album. Maciej Berniak is great support behind the drum kit, adding energy and power to proceedings, and sitting perfectly in the mix so as to never be intrusive. The same is true of the bass, performed by Filip Malinowski, which sounds great and helps the guitar work to shine.
Monasterium’s vocalist, Michał Strzelecki, is a fascinating presence on Church of Bones. Perhaps my exposure is simply limited, but I’ve never heard another singing voice like his. His heavily-accented delivery is not what anyone hearing this band for the first time will be expecting when the title track’s surges to life. Unfortunately, that opening title track is not a great showcase for Strzelecki; it sounds like it was written for a different singer. Upon my first listen, I found I was nervous about the next forty-five minutes with this tour guide in the boney church I’d entered.
But then, “La Danse Macabre” begins. The chorus of the album’s second song layers Strzelecki’s voice on itself; one track singing high, one singing low. It’s catchy and memorable and resonant in an amazing way. As the album went on, I found I was paying less attention to the uniqueness of Strzelecki’s voice, and instead, noticing his inflections, passion, and the way he seemed to be playing the characters whose perspectives he took on as he sang. I’m still not positive that Strzelecki fits the sound of Monasterium, but he nails the theme of their music perfectly, and I enjoy a lot of this album all the more for his delivery.
The final song on Church of Bones is “The Last Templar,” and it’s the only song on the album that really lives up to the “epic” descriptor the band has given itself. At eight minutes, it’s the longest on the album and towers over its surroundings. It features a guest vocal spot from Leo Stivala (Forsaken), whose raspy singing makes him a compelling Jaques De Molay, taunting and cursing Strzelecki’s King Phillip IV of France as he is condemned and burned alive for political gain. The song is grand and affecting, with acoustic interludes, strong riffs, and a memorable chorus. Only “Ferrier of the Underworld” comes close to matching the closer, which leaves the rest of Church of Bones in a bit of an odd place.
Church of Bones is a good album. Nothing about it is groundbreaking or overly exciting, but I’ve enjoyed my time with it more than I expected to. Monasterium have a cool sound, good talent, and just enough uniqueness to set them apart from their contemporaries. If their sophomore album isn’t quite amazing, there is more than enough promise here to have me very excited to see what they will be doing next.