Dead Men Tell No Tales
5/30/2008 - Review by: Etiam
Although Europe has long enjoyed a stronger doom scene than the U.S., one subgenre in which the States have competed well is drone. This arguably has more to do with a select handful of individuals--O'Malley, Anderson, Plotkin, namely--than an entire community, but the fact remains that drone doom/noise in the vein of Sunn O))) and Khanate have historically been the venture of American (or at least English-speaking) folks.
On 'Dead Men Tell No Tales', France's Monarch are directly addressing this imbalance. The release, technically under the name Monarch!, combines and occasionally reinterprets their past two full-lengths, 'Speak of the Sea' and 'Swan Song', in one attractive black and silver digipack. The two discs have only five tracks between them, but not a single one is less than 10 minutes and 'We Are The Music Makers' is actually subtitled '(Long Version)'. Evidently the 20-minute original wasn't long enough. The packaging is disarmingly cutesy, in keeping with Monarch's themes, and is perhaps the most appealing element of the entire release. Although the hearts and Mario-esque ghosts could legitimately be called a gimmick, they are a welcome change from doom metal's chronic shoe-gazing and blurry nocturnal still-life's. Furthermore, Monarch's lyrics, which are (mostly) included, are refreshing narratives--pelagic, poetic, and more poised than their delivery would suggest.
In some respects, Monarch's music is good fun. When set to high volume, their absurd down-tuning, indistinguishable progressions, and Emilie's distorted moans can clear one's mind instantaneously of all thought processes not essential to basic life functions (breathing, blinking, etc.). Sometimes this purification by expurgation is just what one needs after a long day, and for these circumstances Monarch are supremely qualified. And, as with Thorr's Hammer, it's hard not to award Monarch a couple extra points for giving a young woman the forum to be as unladylike as she could ever hope to be. Fortunately, this does not mean that vocals are overused here; to the contrary, some songs carry on for more than half their duration before Emilie makes her first appearance.
At other times, Monarch simply feel excessive. This is a criticism that could be leveled at nearly every band in metal, if not rock 'n' roll in general, but talented artists suspend our disbelief, so to speak, seduce us through the guile of the electric guitar, and delight us with tales to which we would never attend when sober. And it is in this effort where Monarch stumble. Despite the staggering aural impact these tracks can make, one finds it difficult to pay attention for an entire song's duration, and those once-banished thoughts and distractions return rather quickly. Any artist writing tracks more than 20 minutes faces this problem, but if one is not equal to the task then one should abstain (from publishing it) until capability matches ambition.
While the critique of internal inconsistency isn't usually one leveled at doom albums, 'Dead Men Tell No Tales' is twice as vulnerable for its combined packaging and just as guilty. The instrumentation of the second album, 'Swan Song', is largely indistinguishable from the 'Speak of the Sea', perhaps aside from a slightly clearer vocal production; otherwise, their currents rise and fall in similar patterns. 'Dead Men Tell No Tales' is an effective and jarring way to clean one's palate, but its content is too unmemorable to be excused by its charming exterior.
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