Mastered by the infallible Dan Swanö. A PR email that rants about the loudness wars. A heartfelt, passionate declaration that they will NOT bow to the pressures of the industry, and dad-gummit they’re going to give us a sparkling recording with Full Dynamic Range. All this and more are promised from Monsterworks on their sixteenth (!) album, Scale and Probability. Forget the fact that I’d never heard of these guys before getting the promo, and that MarkZ had never heard of these guys before he got their promo two years ago, and that, while their Bandcamp page shows 11 albums, and their last promo said Black Swan Annihilation was their 13th album, yet somehow Scale and Probability is their 16th1. When you toss out PR bytes about DR and Swanö, I’m gonna be interested. I’m also going to be expecting results.
Sadly, the PR email is the best thing about Scale and Probability. Normally we write about the good stuff on an album before harping on the issues, but to hell with that. This album is off the rails in almost every way imaginable. Sure, the DR score is healthy (three songs are a 12, the other three are a 13), but it’s been done in completely the wrong way. As in, this album may have been well-mastered by Dan Swanö, but it was so horribly produced, engineered, and mixed that the mastering job is irrelevant. Every instrument sounds like it went straight through the signal chain with no manipulation whatsoever, and unless you’re the world’s greatest studio cats, everything needs to be touched up a bit. The best word to describe this album is “jarring.” Instruments, especially the drums, leap out of the soundfield at odd moments and with no musical reason, scaring the hell out of the listener. When you don’t at least use limiters, or mild compression, on instruments, but just dump straight to tape, it’s going to sound horrible, and that’s what we’ve got here.
What’s the music like, though? Monsterworks don’t easily fit within a single genre: their music has elements of thrash, doom, post-metal, classic metal, and death metal, all jumbled together in a manner that, if more time had been taken, might be appealing. As it stands, this is a very disjointed-sounding recording, perhaps due in part to the band working on the project via long distance. Vocals are all over the place, with death growls, weird shrieks, and not-quite-good harmonies causing confusion in my head. The drumming style makes no sense, with random toms blowing out an eardrum for no logical reason, and a snare that sounds like it was only mic’ed from beneath. The lack of recording prowess on the drums and vocals is staggering – just listen to “Cosmic Deadly Probe” for confirmation.
Not all is lost on Scale and Probability, and fans of the band and their unique style will probably still manage to enjoy this record. If (and this is a massive if) one can put aside the horrible production job, there are still some clever arrangements and interesting passages here. In particular, the guitar work on this album is quite outstanding, as is the bass playing. The vocals are half-baked, and the drumming is horrible, but the stringed instruments are really on point, and if I focus hard on them throughout then I don’t get quite so irritated by everything else. The songs themselves are rather odd, as is Monsterworks’ style, but the closing track “Ockham’s Razor” does show promise beneath the horrendous non-production, and “The Revea” is also a gem of a song obscured by all the issues.
Listen, I hate shitting on a record as much as the next guy. And judging from Black Swan Annihilation, their only past music I became familiar with, Monsterworks are capable of much more. That, and the fact that by all accounts the band are decent enough blokes, makes me feel bad about the grade, but no matter how much I listened to Scale and Probability I just couldn’t find enough redeeming qualities. I suppose when you put out an album per year you won’t always hit the mark, and in this case the band has definitely missed. Word is they are already working on a couple of follow-up albums, so here’s to hoping they maintain their commitment to dynamics while also giving us an overall better recording.