It’s ironic that doom metal has only recently become the new post-black-metal, considering the subgenre’s roots trace directly back to Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut. Bands like Sweden’s Monolord carry the torch for a more traditionalist take on the stoner and sludge end of the spectrum, in contrast to boundary-pushing bands like Primitive Man and The Body. Monolord’s newest album finds the band doubling down on fuzzed-out death marches, stripping away a lot of the psychedelic elements present on previous material.
Through this more streamlined sound, Monolord dials in its crushing riffs and carries its fourth album along its dirgey way.
Right at the start of “The Bastard Son,” Monolord pridefully wears its influences on its sleeve. Bassist Mika Häkki, drummer Esben Willems and guitarist-vocalist Thomas Jäger lock into a classic doom groove of seismic proportions. The song features clever juxtaposition between three- and four-count grooves, giving the hypnotic guitar strains some wiggle room within a primitive framework of drones and chugs.
Jäger continues to channel his inner Ozzy Osbourne, though his melodies don’t tend to follow the riff like the heavy metal godfather. His voice completes No Comfort‘s classic doom sound. With the volume of riff-heavy Sabbath-worshipping increasing, Monolord stands out for its almost scientific approach to bone-crunching doom.
Like most bands that play this style, Monolord’s production is practically an instrument by itself. On “The Last Leaf,” the detuned riffs retain clarity and heaviness, allowing nuanced musicianship to seep through the cracks of the wall of thick distortion. Souring electric guitar leads and an undercurrent of earthy acoustic guitars complete the song’s bulldozing foundation. While not flashy, Willems impeccably pushes and pulls the band with his unwavering, suffering grooves.
The bluesy swing of “Skywards” manages to pick up the tempo without forsaking slow-moving morosity. You’ll find yourself head-banging to the propulsive rhythms, but Jäger’s spectral voice can still glide over the racket. The fact Monolord pulls this distinct feel and an Iommi-esque guitar solo out of the hat within the meat of the record shows the band’s strategic handling of less-is-more arrangements.
“Larvae” shows off Monolord’s understanding of this style’s more heartfelt side. Jäger reaches for the stars with elegiac, harmonized guitar lines and plunges into the depths alongside Häkki’s thunderous low-end crunch. Within such a long-winded format, Monolord knows how to build tension and exactly when to release it. No section draws on for too long—and it all sets up the outro riff to demolish everything in its path.
Harmonized strains and leveling beats remain central to this album’s sound. Monolord does doom by the book but that doesn’t mean the band can’t keep things interesting. Still, the vocals could have used a bit more personality. They tend to hang back in the mix and hide behind the gargantuan instrumentation.
This isn’t to say Jäger doesn’t have a few standout vocal moments, like the slow-burner “Alone Together Forever Divided.” As the song’s echoing acoustic guitar strums and mutes, a pulsing bass line gradually layers chilling electric guitar arpeggiations, Jäger fills the ethereal setting. From vocals to fretwork, the sounds lean into Monolord’s songwriting more than any overt innovation.
The title track closes No Comfort with a monolithic 12-minute excursion. It covers ground already tread by previous cuts but the riffs still feel vital and unique. There’s an emphatic drop to almost nothing at the midsection, only to build up to a rapturous, enveloping catharsis of slow-motion guitar harmonies. As the album lands in sluggish bravado, Monolord proves its worth as a champion of doom done right. It’s an inexorable salvo of hazy stoner riffs and crushing sludge. Even though more bands go a similar route, these guys take the scenic road.