I love a record that just starts throwing music at the listener from the start. Sure, those little instrumental lead-ins can be fun but when Monotheist kicks off Scourge, out March 16th through Prosthetic Records, it’s instantly in-your-face tech death. I respect that. With eight songs contributing to just over an hour of total run time, there is a lot of blistering riffs and bellowing growls to get through, so let’s get started.
As I stated above, this album comes in like a lion with the first track, “The Grey King.” At a little under five minutes, the song manages to go through many phases relatively smoothly. While many of the common tech death hallmarks are present such as squeals, rapid-fire drumming, and fancy fretwork, what stands out is the songwriting. This opening track serves as sort of a thesis statement for what Monotheist will be serving up as Scourge progresses. “The Great Chain At The Neck Of The Earth” follows the opener with some great dissonant riffs and a more varied vocal approach. The atmosphere is cranked up a bit with more effects on the guitars, and even more tempo changes abound. What is becoming evident is that this band really knows how to write riffs, and put them together in a song.
“The Mark Of The Beast” arrives next, in two sections. “Pt. 1: The Image” is an instrumental strings performance which sits just under two minutes and reminds us of metal’s relation to classical composition. “Pt. 2: Scion Of Darkness” returns to pummeling double-bass and intricate riffage with an even greater sense of melodicism. This part is nearly eight minutes and is once again a showcase of progressions, with a few neo-classical bits thrown in for continuity. There are some really great moments in this composition, and, when paired together, make for a nice ten minutes of music. If you’ve noticed my making sure to point out song lengths so far, that’s been entirely on purpose. The next three songs take up around thirty-two minutes of Scourge’s total runtime and I have some thoughts on the ups and downs of this approach.
The first of these three is the instrumental track “Infinite Wisdom,” and it’s genuinely one of the finest tracks to be found on this album. It’s rife with hooks, solos, and a real sense of fun. This is followed by the two songs, “Desolate It Mourns Before Me”, and “Abominable Acts” which are both well constructed, but not as memorable as some of those which precede them. In my many listens to this album, I would always find myself fatigued in this area of the album. Stacking three nearly eleven-minute songs in a row on the back half of this album is a little jarring to the overall pacing of listening through Scourge all at once. The first four tracks take up much less than half of the runtime of the last four. I’m not trying to distill this music or album down to numbers, but merely adding context. In general, I think that this does hurt the record a bit, and given the style of music, it can be a bit tiring to get through.
Monotheist actually surprised me when I first began listening through Scourge. I was expecting some run-of-the-mill tech death, but what I heard was some really stellar songwriting, great hooks, and stunning compositions. The theme of the album is nothing terribly original but serves the songs well enough. The neoclassical moments were nice, and this album never fell into mindless wankery in the way that many records in this style are inclined to do. I do think the latter half of the album overstayed its welcome a bit, which could lead to some of their technical prowess going unheard by listeners who feel the same as I, which would be a shame. In the end though, if you’re up for some grand tech death, this is one of the year’s early highlights, and shouldn’t be missed by fans of the genre.
Notable Tracks: “The Grey King”; “Infinite Wisdom”; “Scourge”
FFO: Inanimate Existence, Decapitated, Suffocation