If like me you didn’t think things could get any heavier than Monolord‘s debut, Empress Rising, you’d be wrong. Following up on last year’s titanic slab of earth-shattering doom, sophomore effort Vænir takes it to another level. The sound is even fuller with a dirty, reverbed distortion gnarling through overstressed amps. Yet contrary to how it seems the production is such that each member’s gargantuan contributions are plainly distinct and terribly awe-inspiring.
Opener “Cursing the One” illustrates this perfectly. Heavy doom riffage pulls thunderclouds into existence, casting a darkness over the soundscape, electrifying the air. While a great riff and ridiculous heaviness are enough to make this song killer, this beat comes along near the end and jaws hit the floor. When queried about it drummer Esben Willems responded, “That’s me pummeling away on distorted toms, building my own little troll percussion marching band in the background.” It’s the sort of brilliance that leaves an indelible mark on the listener.
Willems is spectacular throughout the album. Crashing cymbals, gut-busting kicks and brilliant snare timing make for a potent arsenal. While difficult, timing is key in doom such as this and Willems does more than just keep a (slow) beat. It’s his work in all its punctuation and intuitive strength that grounds the listener, as it’s all too easy to find yourself lost in droning riffs and spatially-encompassing tones.
Bassist Mika Häkki (formerly of Rotten Sound – talk about opposite end of the spectrum!) moves mountains himself. On “We Will Burn” his crawling tone sneaks around the dark recesses of the mind, lurking, waiting to pounce on those massive riffs. “Nuclear Death” sees him getting crazy in the background, throwing around a flurry of notes that would surely make Geezer Butler proud.
Rounding out the trio is guitarist/vocalist Thomas Jäger, The Bringer of Riffs. Jäger can crush with the best of them as well as trip out on some psychedelic leads. His vocals too call from beyond. His ethereal voice hangs ghost-like over the volcanically seismic guitars calling to mind Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan” with its nature. (Penultimate track “The Cosmic Silence” is total “Planet Caravan” worship.)
On “Died a Million Times” Monolord display the OM-ness so prominent on their debut. It’s catchy and gloriously soaked in stoner groove. Huge doom riffs, slow and steady, get punctuated by haymaker notes leaving the head stunned with concussive force. Speaking from experience, “Died” sounds like being so highly (wink, wink) in tune with your brain that you can feel brain cells dying alcoholic deaths, and lamenting each one. And the closing title track is the most slothy and depressing. Its hypnotic repetition coasts on the mellow vibes as the listener comes down from their considerable high. Then BAM! More doom-ination.
Vænir takes everything that made Empress Rising so great and makes it bigger. So big in fact that the expression “Everything is bigger in Texas” gets squashed underfoot like an ant. Everything is bigger in Sweeden as long as Monolord have their way. Vænir is so obliterative that it feels like Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump itself is crumbling into a pile of powdered bones. Or a full top-to-bottom avalanche of Kebnekaise. Monolord are less obvious in their Electric Wizard-isms and other influences and more themselves, continuing their climb up the modern stoner doom ladder. That’s the sort of trajectory that follows when the worlds ends at every striking of a chord while at the same time creating whole new ones.
Vænir is total doom and quite possible the best 2015 has to offer in the genre. Drown yourself in Vænir. You’ll be glad you did.
Released April 28, 2015 on Riding Easy Records.