Review: MONARCH — Never Forever
Monarchs‘s new record will cause abrasions and then salve them for you.
When the first taste of Never Forever appeared online, in the form of “Song to the Void”, my initial thought was something like “Oh hey, a funeral doom band embracing slowcore. Nice.” Not the most accurate thought I’ve ever had, but it’s not all my fault: “Song to the Void” is a misleading introduction to the new directions Monarch explores on Never Forever. It is soft and supple, with wispy vocals and gently crumbling distortion and a simple, ritualistic thud of a drum beat. It’s the kind of tune you might hum to yourself while sitting at the end of a dock with your feet in the water and a notebook of half-written poems in your lap. Not the first thing you’d expect from an amp-worshipping funeral doom act. Based on this single alone, one could be forgiven for assuming that Monarch had ditched metal for some droning angle on dream pop.
Funeral doom lovers should rejoice that this is not the case. (Dreampop fiends should go back to sleep.) “Song to the Void” may not be highly indicative of what you’ll find on the rest of Never Forever, but it certainly is a bold signal that Monarch is looking to expand the formula. Happily, this means we get an album full of myriad textures and atmospheres to smooth out the blunt throbbing of the doooooooooom; sadly, THIS IN NO WAY IMPLIES THAT MONARCH WILL EVER PLAY AT TEMPOS GREATER THAN 20 BPM.
I say “sadly” because the rhythmic myopia of funeral doom is the biggest stumbling block to my enjoyment of the genre. If you, like me, can’t remember loving any funeral doom album other than Bell Witch’s Longing, then Never Forever‘s relentlessly un-lively 68 minutes might prove a bit of a pill. But wait! Don’t run away! Come back! “Why?” you ask with severe skepticism. Because: While sitting still for the 68 minutes required to listen to the album from start to finish will put you at risk of deep vein thrombosis or couch sores, in smaller doses it is downright delightful. “But do I really have to sit still for the full 68 minutes?” you ask. Well, no. I mean, I don’t recommend playing this while driving unless you want to end up in a ditch. And the glacial pace throughout is not really conducive to walking or working out or anything resembling physical activity. But it’s your life, do what you want with it.
If you’re already familiar with Monarch, you’ll be expecting vocalist Emilie Bresson to spend the majority of Never Forever shrieking sparsely, only betraying her talent for actual singing in brief and distant glimpses. Herein lies the key to what makes the new album so alluring: Its boldest step away from the funeral doom template is the prevalence of Bresson’s clean vocals. Her measured cooing is abundant and often thickly layered, lending the songs a ghostly melancholia that was lacking in the band’s earlier days of extreme minimalist doom. Where once they were content to test the limits of human sluggishness with painful silences between lone chords and an almost comically understated percussive attack that verged on nonexistence, they’ve since fleshed-out their repertoire, embracing the terrifying fact that sometimes more is more. So that now, while it is still possible to watch an entire episode of Bojack Horseman between beats #1 and #2 of any given measure–between the splash of a cymbal and the crack of the snare–the space between those beats is full of tangible ambience. Most of said ambience is supplied by Bresson’s sultry whispers or enveloping ooohs and aaaahs, yet there are plenty of moments, most powerfully on final track “Lilith”, where chilling synth arrangements take the lead.
If any of the flowery shit I’ve described above has you itching to give Never Forever a prejudiced pass, just know that the bones of the album are still made of hard-headed downtempo miserablism–and while Bresson leans heavily on vocal melodies throughout, she still does belt out the “help me I’m being stabbed to death” screams whenever nothing less will do the trick. So yeah, despite Monarch’s decisive move toward beauty and elegance, there’s still a lot here for stalwart funeral doom fans to enjoy. For me, it’s those very tropes which drag the album down. I believe I’ve already made my feelings about ALWAYS PLAYING SLOWLY NO MATTER WHAT GUYS pretty clear. So let’s tackle those song-lengths. Fifteen, seventeen, twenty minutes . . . Nothing to gasp at, given the fact that more than one doom band has released a full-length album containing only one song. I’m just not hearing enough variety here to pay for such patience-testing lengths. The pace never falters and, “Song to the Void” notwithstanding, neither does the mood. Even bands who continually shift tempos and moods run the risk of the dreaded self-indulgence when they stray beyond the eight-minute mark. I understand that expecting a funeral doom band to wrap things up in under ten minutes is like asking a death metal band not to play blastbeats (i.e. very reasonable yet likely to be met with scorn), but come on . . .
Okay, I’m done griping. Pithy frustrations aside, I truly do enjoy Never Forever. I can’t pretend to be a scholar of funeral doom, but to these ears it sounds like a landmark achievement for the genre. Or at least a persuasive suggestion about where to go next. The album’s cover is a far more elegant and poignant indication of that direction than anything I could say about it. An inverted crucifix to remind us that Monarch is a creepy, darkly ritualistic band. But hey, the blasphemous symbol is made out of pretty butterflies–a clear sign that Monarch is ready to come at least halfway out of the crypt.
(Am I going to talk about the fact that the song “Diamant Noir” is a well-camouflaged Kiss cover? No. No I am not.)
I HEREBY RATE NEVER FOREVER 1/1 MISSING TOILET RATINGS
Never Forever was released by Profound Lore Records on September 22nd, 2017.