In the past I’ve been guilty of turning my nose up at anything that could even remotely be considered “Christian metal.” The fact is – my own theistic opinions aside – this has left me unavailable to enjoy some fantastic music; a mistake I was not planning on making with Orlando’s Monotheist and their inaugural full-length, Scourge. A round trip through perdition is what this debut offers, one that emphasizes personal conflict and deliverance whilst mercifully keeping any clumsy evangelizing out of the equation. Free from any proselyte prose, I was quick to delve into the album’s intricate death metal, and not only does something wicked this way come, it does so with old testament wrath.
Monotheist play a tech heavy brand of innately progressive death metal, and, by and large, they do this very well. More than equipped to crush on command, Suffocation sized riffery quakes and shakes through some continental sized crunch, simultaneously mutating in a bid to keep up with the weft and warp of their progressive tag. The actual result is a twin collection of tracks that either destroy with a rhythm heavy salvo, or noodle straight into the brain, and believe me, there is some serious instrumentation on display here. Whether it’s the Poland-by-way-of-New York riffs of “The Grey King” (featuring Christian Älvestam) or the obvious pushing of musical boundaries on the exceptional “The Great Chain at the Neck of the Earth,” Scourge always offers a challenge, and vocalist J.J. “Shiv” Polachek of 7 Horns 7 Eyes, is just the man to narrate the gauntlet, with an array of righteous roars and blackened screams.
I’ve spent an awful lot of time with Monotheist‘s debut and, undeniably, Scourge has proved itself a conflicting bitch to review. Instrumentally, the album is exceptional, of this there can be no doubt, but I am sometimes left to wonder how proficient they are as actual songwriters. For example, the record’s first half exemplifies the band’s predilection for gargantuan riffing; huge breakdowns and even the occasional slam add a hardy dimension to the early cuts, whilst never shying away from dexterous guitar lines, courtesy of Michael “Prophet” Moore and Tyler McDaniel. But come half-time, some issues begin to arise. Now, I’m a big fan of classic prog, and what made those artists so effective was their often incredulous ability to compose definitively complex arrangements that never lacked the capacity to both impress yet fixate the listener. “Infinite Wisdom,” an instrumental that features some of the record’s most articulate musicianship, manages to be transcendent yet brutal, but only when I’m truly paying attention. Casually, it became something of a vacuum, despite its overt ability – ironic when the preceding song, “Mark of the Beast II: Scion of Darkness,” keeps the same thematic company, but commits no such sin and at a fraction of the bloat.
In fact, almost all of the second half feels like an exhibition as averse to actual song-craft, doubtless designed to challenge, but, instead, emphasizes a disjointed self-indulgence. Even my favourite track on the album, “Desolate, It Mourns Before Me,” harbors some clumsy habits. While the backing synth emulates a haunting female vocal for added depth, the overwrought bass solo mid-song feels like it’s there purely to justify a “progressive” paradigm and steals more than it offers. All is not lost, however, as the track’s neck-wrecker riffs and a killer guest solo from one Bobby Koelble of Death‘s Symbolic keeps the cut hale and hearty rather than just another stale pound of flesh.
Make no mistake, while Scourge is overlong and at times lacking in cohesion, the album is often capable of exercising a deceptive immediacy, consistently packed with brutal ability. Although the deft layering of an act like Beyond Creation currently eludes Monotheist, the room for improvement is hardly insurmountable, and, slinging this kind of skill, entirely likely. I’ll happily recommend this to those with a taste for progression, and odds are they won’t be disappointed. After all, when Revelation 10:1-7 spoke of seven thunders uttering their voices, it may well have been a prophecy of a Scourge to come – one which will only serve to reverberate deeper and darker with subsequent releases.