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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Album Review: Monuments – The Amanuensis

Amanuensis – a term used over the years to mean such things as slave, aide, scribe and secretary. Sure, it’s a bit of a mouthful but then here’s an album that’s got the depth of flavour, good looks, emotional pull and addictive qualities to back that hefty handle up.

This sophomore song-driven album has drawn inspiration from the themes and motifs that connected the dots of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas novel and, if that wasn’t enough, it also taps into the mysterious Samsara cycle. Guitarist John Browne has described the latter as “the cyclical existence of life that we are all bound to.” Here he goes on to mention that “Chris (Barretto, vocalist) has written an entire story around the lyrics. Maybe that will see the light one day!” Intriguing stuff.

Recorded in Wales, North America and England, the production has been stripped back and recorded live, where possible, and it all comes without triggers and without studio trickery. They’ve also refined that same infectious, rhythmical, progressive groove that so marked out their debut Gnosis. The immediacy of these techniques are there for all to hear. These, of course, are features that are also being picked up by more and more bands now, but it’s a concept that has been around for far longer than Monuments. SikTh’s work has undoubtedly had an influence, but Monuments’ guitarist John Browne, originally with one of djent’s forefathers Fellsilent, is proof of that pedigree.

On the first listen, you’d swear the vocal layers on this thing are infinite. Chris Barretto (ex-Periphery, Ever Forthright) debuts with the band here and his experience and incredible vocal gymnastics lift the album to a whole new level. Throughout “Origin Of Escape” and the epic “Quasimodo” he’s tearing out lumps from your lugholes by firing out elongated roars that he bends into long, base-to-peak crecendos. During “Horcrux” and “I, The Destroyer” he fishes out those bowel-loosening piq grunts of his and for the remainder he’s scraping the skies with a sweet, melodic drift that gently echoes and swirls around inside your skull. On this performance, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better fit for this infectious band.

Playing Devil’s Advocate, you could perhaps find fault with the start-stop end to “Quasimodo” or the powered-down, monastic chanting that forms the soul-sucking closer “Samsara”. Both could be viewed as rather crass stylistic affectations that the album could do without. Also, the tight production does tend to crush the mix together a little too thickly, so you may find that you have to hunt for the big riffs and choral keystones. Certainly the feisty “This is the end of promises made that were never meant to hurt / Forget what I say, I just want to watch you burn!” of “I, The Creator” is a monster hook big enough to keep anyone happy but you might be hard pushed to find another to match it.

The stark reality though is that The Amanuensis takes a burgeoning genre and raises the bar for the rest. Seriously, you’d be hard-pressed to find another modern progressive metal album that could match this for impact. “The Alchemist” is the star track here. It also forms the central axis, directing the flow as it draws the rest of the tracks inwards. It knits the whole concept together; driving with a brutal force powerful enough to level cities yet retains the lightness of touch to draw the eye time and again. There’s even a game-changer in here in the form of “Jinn” with its majestic Eastern elements wickedly-woven into the fabric of the music. This is a completely, crushingly epic goliath of tech and groove; wall-shuddering, space-flooding both by design and in performance.

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2014/07/monuments-the-amanuensis-century-media/
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