The first long length from Gothenburg doomsters Monolord, last year’s Empress Rising, enjoyed a surprising level of success and acclaim, the likes of which is usually the result of a combination of solid, but not great music and circumstances which fall under the banner of “hype.” Releasing a second album just a year later and following such a highly esteemed record made more likely the possibility of the enthusiasm bubble bursting. Vænir (named after Sweden’s largest lake) could have easily turned out a dud.
Good news, everyone! Vænir is good! And it’s almost the same as Empress Rising. Nothing else could have been realistically expected. No, sir. Monolord are a rather straightforward entity, mixing doom, sludge, and stoner metal with riffs dating back to Black Sabbath, then adding a touch of psychedelia and fuzzed out, distorted vocals. Does this sound like the description of several other band? Electric Wizard, you say? Indeed, I don’t think there’s a better and more succinct way of describing Monolord’s sound than comparing them to the English doom giants from a parallel universe close to our own. Slightly phased out, not exactly the same, yet clearly recognizable. Sure, sure, there are also traces of YOB and Sleep here, but is that a detrimental notion? As one of our commenters pointed out recently, doom/sludge/stoner is often based on reusing the same elements and riffs over and over again, repackaging them, and spicing them up just a bit. It’s how it goes and Monolord are pretty proficient at it.
The band has the necessary chops for writing relatively memorable songs and a knack for growling, groveling riffs. Case in point: there are six songs on the album and only one that isn’t up to scratch – the short, intermezzo-like “The Cosmic Silence,” which tries to pull a Sabbathian hippie tune à la “Solitude” or “Planet Caravan” and fails at it. But when the band sticks to what they do best, stoning, dooming, and cursing, they are quite good. The opening “Cursing the One” doesn’t mess around and opens with some nice, sweeping riffs, continues leaning on the same nice riffs for nine minutes, and finishes with the same nice riffs. Yeah, like I’ve mentioned before, it’s stoner-doom, it’s repetitive. “Nuclear Death,” “Died a Million Times,“ and the titanic, seventeen minutes long title track are all satisfying, traditional doom songs with some interesting and some less interesting sections (when they go all, like, meditative, like), but it’s “We Will Burn” that steals the spotlight. One of the best, ear-wormiest riffs I’ve heard in a while and a great break and groove hitting somewhere around the fifth minute of the track make it the standout, and not just on this record.
Looked and digested as a whole then, this is a pleasant if somewhat bland album. It’s the definition of “solid” and it will be liked by many insatiable doom fans, but skipped by passersby of the genre. Looking at the musicianship – Mika Häkki on a pulsing, propelling bass, Esben Willems on hard-hitting drums, and Thomas V. Jäger on buzzing guitars and spaced out, “whoa, dude!” vocals are all seasoned musicians and they don’t miss a beat. Shouldered by just the right type of fuzzy, meaty, yet clear production, they make a convincing case by underlining all the strong points of doom’s appeal. Not the gigantic monster of a sound that, say, Ufomammut have, but it’s still poised to rock your eardrums. If after years and years of consuming doom metal you still have any left, that is.
Are you a fan of Monolord’s first record? Do you wish Electric Wizard released at least three albums a year? Well, then you’re in luck. Monolord will please all but the most nitpicky of doom fans. The equivalent of homemade food, comforting and familiar, Vænir is worth a listen even if it doesn’t bring anything new to the doom table. Or maybe exactly because of that.