The Sombre – Monuments of Grief Review

Rarely—never?—have I seen quite such a long list of active and prior projects, as when I looked up the Dutch music machine Maurice de Jong, the man behind The Sombre. Seriously, I am not kidding. That list includes the likes of Gnaw their Tongues, Cloak of Altering and Golden Ashes, as well as a number of other acts either now defunct or from which de Jong has departed, such as Cauteror and Soulwound. Among his many, many current projects is The Sombre, a one-man death doom band now on its third full-length outing. Monuments of Grief is the followup to 2019 debut Into the Beckoning Wilderness and the following year’s sophomore effort, Shapeless Misery. With this level of output from one guy, can The Sombre possibly offer something new and interesting?

Look, let’s cut to the chase here, Monuments of Grief is, unsurprisingly, bleak as all fuck. With an album title like that, released under the nom de guerre The Sombre and as the follow up to Shapeless Misery, there is no levity, no joy and no whimsy to be found here. Monuments of Grief is just that, a towering obelisk of doom that drags the listener down into a hopeless pit of despair, from whence one can look up at the light but with absolutely no hope of reaching it. As majestic, ponderous riff is layered atop rumbling bass and faltering drums, almost like a stuttering heartbeat, the bleakness is all-enveloping. Combining Swallow the Sunesque misery with something of the Finnish gloom of Dawn of Solace, The Sombre is a suffocating listen. This is only enhanced by de Jong’s crushing, gravelly roared vocals, which sound like boulders manoeuvring around each other in his throat.

The overall ethos, if not the actual sound, of tracks like “The Mourning Gloom” also put me in mind of Katatonia at their most forlorn. Even when, as on the title track, the strings relent, giving way to ethereal synths and only the most delicate of percussion, it feels like a brief but finite respite, rather than anything more hopeful or promising, such is The Sombre’s all pervading mood. Even when the harsh, bellowed vocals abate in favor of brief, almost-spoken-word passages, all it does is allow the listener to catch their breath and reflect on the sadness. For all its evocative darkness, it is curious that Monuments of Grief is not as continent-shiftingly heavy as, say, Mizmor’s Cairn, although the two probably sail similar seas. In fact, it is arguably closer to the likes of Dawn of Solace and, were it not for de Jong’s light-sucking vocals, The Sombre would be a slightly different proposition.

A step up, both in terms of songwriting and mood creation—of course it might be argued that one naturally follows the other—from Shapeless Misery, Monuments of Grief is undoubtedly The Sombre’s best work to date. More consistent in its writing and flowing better as an album, Monuments of Grief does exactly what it sets out to do, which is remind you that, however good a day you’re having right now, there’s a whole shit ton of sadness out there with your name on it. Standout track “When Death Comes I Will be Beside You” is stellar in its slow build and huge dynamic sound. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for album closer “Paradise Regained,” which sounds rushed and means the albums goes out with something of a fizzle. This, and indeed The Sombre’s efforts as a whole, are not helped one bit by the terrible, muffled drum sound that carries across the whole record. This is a shame, as the guitars and vocals sound rich and textured but have the bottom ripped out by the drum sound.

Monuments of Grief is so relentless in its misery that, even at only 38 minutes in length, it feels exhausting. That’s not necessarily a criticism in and of itself. Nothing as unrelentingly morose and mournful as The Sombre is ever going to fly by in a flash and indeed that harrowing sense of despair can only be created through sustained intensity. However, if de Jong were to introduce just a few more tempo shifts and occasional moments of levity, this would actually make the darkness seem all the blacker (look at what Slow did with the stunning “Incendiaire” on VI – Dantalion, for example) and elevate what is already a good album to something verging on great.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Chaos Records
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: August 19th, 2022

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