My recent hankering for a melodeath fix came via a healthy binge of Edge of Sanity. And for what it may have lacked in innovation, Rogga Johansson‘s latest solo venture also hit the nostalgic sweet spot of the heftier qualities of vintage melodic death. Throw in the impressive debut LP from Eternal Storm and my sometimes dormant hunger for melodeath has been reinvigorated. Enter Sweden’s Pandemonium, a long running yet unfamiliar act returning with their fourth full-length album and first since way back in 2008. A veteran outfit returning to the game after a decade long hiatus creates an interesting proposition.
Somber atmospheres, brooding melodies of the wintry and melancholic variety, and solid dollops of gruff vocals and blasting aggression bookend songs bristling with energy and smart instrumental chops. Pandemonium possess the fundamentals to create an exciting album. There’s some interesting embellishments thrown into the mix, such as blackened and symphonic elements, adding layers of burnt cheese likely to divide potential listeners. Take the grand, thrashy punch of opener “And Death Was the Way” for instance. The fluttery, distracting synth work and questionable spoken word deviations coupled with bloated length dulls the impact of a song with potential to rip harder than it does. And with the majority of songs cracking at least the six minute mark, Monuments of Tragedy often falls victim to a lack of discipline in the self-editing department, leaving positive ideas stretched beyond their welcome.
When Pandemonium nail the balance and push their stronger qualities to the forefront there’s much to enjoy in sporadic doses across the album’s hefty, just shy of an hour runtime. Dancing through influential pastures of the frosty melancholy of Insomnium and vaguely blackened bombast of Dimmu Borgir, Pandemonium do a good job of not being tied too closely to any one source. “Under the Banner of the Blood Red Sun” grafts symphonic grandeur atop a blackened melodeath base, swiftly engaging their ambitious, technical approach with a scathing, slightly off-kilter blend of aggression and keen sense of melody. While Pandemonium struggle to gain my full attention or boost enthusiasm significantly throughout the album’s duration, songs like the impressive “In Search for Euthanasia” ripple with urgency, classy orchestrations, dynamic twists and headbangable riffs, demonstrating the band’s ability and potential, sadly left unfulfilled as far as consistently interesting writing is concerned.
Excellent musicianship features across the board and although the symphonic elements don’t always sit well with me, at their least obtrusive the synths offer a pleasant melodic counterpoint to the scything harmonies, rugged riffs and energetic drumming. Monuments of Tragedy has the building blocks of a really enjoyable melodic death album. Aside from the cheesier synth integration, Pandemonium boast a muscular edge, exemplified in such beefy, groove-laden cuts as “The Code,” ensuring a reasonably healthy balance between pristine melodic strokes and triumphant gallops with aggressive turns, including searing blasts and rugged grooves. However, the significant gulf between genuinely interesting, gripping content, bloated song lengths, and album duration tests patience and sends the mind wandering. This critique could be aimed at the Eternal Storm album, but here the compositions and writing aren’t on the same levels, resulting in a more detrimental outcome.
Strictly on a technical level Pandemonium acquit themselves very well and clearly there’s been a hell of a lot of time and craftmanship dedicated to the construction of the album. At its most potent, Monuments of Tragedy features some stellar moments and assured songwriting, steered off course by excessive convolution and cheesy tropes infiltrating song structures. In the end Pandemonium have chalked up an album difficult to dislike but equally hard to heartily recommend.