(This is Todd Manning‘s enthusiastic review of the new album by the Texas band Monte Luna, which is out now via Argonauta Records.)
In 2017, Monte Luna dropped their debut full-length on an unsuspecting world, a sonic concoction of crushing sludge and doom mixed with psychedelic tones of weird horror and fantasy. Now they have returned like a lost tribe of barbarians charging across the wasteland. Their follow-up, Drowners’ Wives, was released on October 4th. courtesy of Italian label Argonauta Records.
For those who heard the massive sweep of the duo’s self-titled debut, they will be glad to know that the band have held onto their previous ambition. Yet the path to Doom-ridden bliss is different than before. Where in the past guitarist/vocalist James Clarke pounded out massive Conan-inspired riffage while drummer Phil Hook hammered away at Godflesh-like beats, Drowners’ Wives lets the Melvins influence shine though, primarily through massive vocal hooks. At the same time, there is a thick layer of psychedelia applied liberally over the proceedings that contributes greatly to the overall character of the album.
Album opener,”The Water Hag”, kicks things off with a riff that seems a nod to Bullhead-era Melvins, but quickly overlays a soaring, lysergic lead. When the vocals come in, they are clean but powerful, and one of the album’s primary characteristics comes to the fore. For all the collossal heaviness on display, James Clarke constructs a constant stream of memorable vocal lines.
If the hook in “The Water Hag” wasn’t enough proof of this, the next song, “The Butcher of Blaviken” will surely do the trick. “He’s the light of the world” croons Clarke throughout the opening verse, while underneath the music just oozes with crushing grooves. Imagine Dale Crover, Tony Iommi, and Justin Broadrick sharing a stage. Things progress through a number of thundering passages before the whole affair slips into a softer cosmic groove, a masterful stroke of dynamics, made all the more bold by their decision to never return the song back to the heavier parts.
The assault resumes though on “Night of the Long Fangs”, the upbeat riffing once again displaying great vocal lines. When things slow down, it sounds like a rain of anvils falling from the sky, a passage of Sludgy goodness that would do Burning Witch proud. Next, the album transitions to a track called “Wild Hunt”. This is an excellent piece of drum-driven ambience. The vibe here isn’t so much Neurosis as it is Tribes of Neurot. While it succeeds in breaking up the waves of doom, it pulls the listener in deeper, rather than just serving as a respite.
The album closes with the one-two punch of “Man of Glass” and “Scenes from a Marriage”. The former pairs vicious Doom-riffing with an unhinged and psychedelic organ. When the organ drops out, the music reaches its punishing zenith, a soundtrack to the slow trudge of apocalyptic hordes crossing wastelands. The song finds its way to a pummeling, Neurosis-esque riff that may be the record’s heaviest moment yet.
“Scenes from a Marriage” closes the album on an epic note, opening with a relentless groove before diving back into tectonic Doom. When the tempo slows, the organ returns, but mostly floats in the background, like an inferno burning in the distance. The vocals appropriately come front and center once more, intoning the mantra “Life keeps slipping away”. The track picks up again though, finding a beat that marries Industrial and Sludge. The effect is devastating.
Doom is certainly an overpopulated genre at this point of time. Yet it is heartening to hear Monte Luna forging their own sound and producing material that can hold its head high standing among the genre’s leaders. Where others are content to copy, Monte Luna are creating. Any Doom Metal fan should feel absolutely compelled to pick up a copy of Drowners’ Wives immediately.