Ohh boy, what a year 2019 is turning out to be for doom metal- I am pretty sure that by December, your “best of” lists will feature more than one doom metal album, or at least, I know mine will. For the better part of my life, since I discovered metal more than 20 years ago, I really loved the epic aspect of the subgenre, especially bands like Candlemass, Solitude Aeturnus, and Solstice. It’s fairly obvious that these Polish Doomsters loves them too, and as a result I am really starting to like Monasterium. But wait, there is more to Church of Bones than being just a love letter to the aforementioned bands…
Church of Bones, which came out earlier this month, is a step up from the band’s self titled debut that was released 3 years ago. The band has improved a lot in the field of songwriting and definitely justifies the tag “epic” better both lyrically and musically. The phrase “riff-based epic doom metal with operatic vocals” basically describes what Church of Bones is all about. Vocalist Michał Strzelecki was influenced a lot by Messiah Marcolin’s vocal style and following the same footsteps is not a trivial task by any means. I feel that he succeeds on the job up to the required level, and on top of that, he manages to “steal the spotlight” from his bandmates with every successful attempt to hit these high notes. It is evident that he is not a native English speaker, but it hasn’t bothered me one bit, if anything has added one extra “ethnic” twist to the way Michał sings.Tomasz Gurgul weaves a perfect riff barrage, each one more memorable than the next, to the point that makes you wonder, where are the traditional doom riffmasters of the ages past, and why they cannot do what Tomasz does in this record. As it is customary in traditional doom, the drums and bass guitar have a special role, and they play this role very well, adding the necessary depth to the songs with their cement like, tight collaboration.
The lyrics deserve special mention, mainly because of the topics the band decides to approach like manuscripts of Enochian Magic (Liber Loagaeth), chivalric orders (The Order of the Dragon) ancient Greek mythology (Ferrier of the Underworld) and others equally cool stuff. Again we must point out that in some points it is evident that they were written by a non native English speaker, although they deserve some slack due to poetic license.
Now allow me a moment to explain my reasoning about album aesthetics. There are some albums that we like and buy because some songs stand out as hits, and there are some other, equally good albums that we like and buy because of the general aura they emit as a whole. Church of Bones belongs to the latter category, of those albums that you put on the record and you stay there until the end. Of course it has its ups (mostly) and downs (rarely) but if you consider it a non fragmented piece of musical art, the album makes more sense.
The highlights of the album will be the grim and eerie intro of the title track followed up with that masterful riffing.“La Danse Macabre” which follows, is a perfect example of the wonderful riffing we mentioned earlier, as well as some very clever guitar work which supports the vocal melodies. The third track of the album called “Liber Loagaeth”, and it is the one which gives the stronger Solstice vibes, with the presence (or strategic absence) of the vocals taking the lead and driving the song forward. One of the better songs of the album, and of mr. Strzelecki’s best moments.
“Ferrier of the Underworld” is a Nightfall-esque song an ode to the masters of doom, the likes of which Candlemass sadly haven’t released in years.. no biggy, it’s a very enjoyable song, unless of course someone is looking for something radically fresh and new. “Embrace the Void” is my least favorite song if the album, mainly because it deviates from the riff based recipe of the rest of the album. I can’t stop thinking that if they released such a vocal driven song sometime in the future, when the band would be even more experienced in songwriting, that song would be amazing.
“Order of the Dragon” is one if the most epic songs of the album, and once again everything works well here. The narrative, the progression, the rhythm section – everyone is doing their part and the result is another high point for the album.As the album progresses, the songs become more and more complex, i wouldn’t be surprised if the tracklist is with the chronological order which they were written. “Sleeping with the Dead” comes next and once again the vocals are on the front, while the lyrical theme of the song is textbook doom.
Saving one of the best moments of the album for last, “The Last Templar” reveals (or reminds) the band’s main inspiration, which is The Crusades. This time, the song revolves around King Phillip IV of France and Jacques de Molay (portrayed by the guest vocalist Leo Stivala of the maltese doomsters Forsaken), the last Grandmaster of the Knights Templar. Probably my favorite song, I strongly believe that Monasterium start to for their own path from this song onwards, in a sense that they have toned downed a lot their obvious musical influences. The song has once again great riffs, sing-along chorus, classic guitar intermissions, and more, fingers crossed that the next releases of Monasterium will build on this song.
Church of Bones is the transition of a band which starts to find its steps, a caterpillar metamorphosis of a group of musicians capable of providing high quality songs. The first album caught our attention, this album was the big step forward, next album will be something very very special.
Album Rating: 85/100
Favorite Track: The Last Templar