There’s no telling where the sludge is going to come from next. Andalusian three-piece Monkeypriest got together in 2006 and are now releasing their debut full-length, The Psalm, on heavy Spanish imprint Féretro Records. The album is seven songs, four of which are 6:45-7:00 minutes long, and though that might make it seem like Monkeypriest are working well within a formula, the other tracks – an instrumental opener called “Hanuman’s Dance,” a cover of Cerebral Fix’s “Feast of the Fools” and 10-minute closer “Our Kingdom (Involution Pt. II)” – are enough to break up the proceedings, and combined with the elements of metallic extremity the trio incorporate, The Psalm comes across more varied than one might think. It’s probably not going to blow any minds when it comes to sludge – shades of Eyehategod and Crowbar underscore much of the riffing from guitarist Marco Álvarez – but they have enough different about them to keep the tracks interesting.
Part of that includes a militant kind of nature-based spiritualism and activist sense. Lyrics like “Listen to the sound of nature/I have to follow your work/My protector, my Lord/I need your powerful words” from the title-track sound more like they should be coming from some swoopy-haired Christian deathcore, but Monkeypriest elevate environmentalism to a religious level and use it as the central theme of The Psalm. One might have a hard time figuring that out through the growls and screams of bassist Pedro Román, backed periodically by Álvarez, but the words are right in the liner notes for anyone who wants to explore the album on that level. Even through song titles like “The Word of the Priest” and “Involution,” though, it should be clear from the outset that Monkeypriest have a message they’re trying to deliver. For lack of a better word, call it preaching. It’s also worth noting that each member of the trio uses a numerical stage name. Álvarez is Monkeypriest #1, Román is Monkeypriest #2, and drummer Julio Moreno (who replaced Rafael García sometime before the album was recorded) is Monkeypriest #4. I thought for the purposes of this review that real names would make it easier to distinguish who was doing what.
“The Word of the Priest,” which follows “Hanuman’s Dance,” is more or less a mission statement for The Psalm lyrically and musically. The pacing is on the slower end of middle, and that seems to be where Monkeypriest are most comfortable. Moreno begins the track with heavy thuds and keeps that ethic moving well into “The Psalm,” which follows, enacting builds and subtle tempo changes skillfully. It being sludge, the riffs are central, but the dry-throated rasp of the vocals to “The Psalm” will also make it a standout to those who appreciate screams over their doom. The groove the band follows the riff into proves worthy of naming the album after, but the real surprise follows a Román-led bass break, when the band launch into black metal-style blastbeats and a guitar line that could have come off any of the last several Satyricon records. It’s a unique moment on The Psalm, but hardly Monkeypriest’s only foray into the more extreme end of metal. There’s still that Cerebral Fix cover to come. They do well blending those elements into their sound, though, and it gives The Psalm a sense of being more than just another screamy sludge outing.
They move in an opposite, more ambient direction for the intro to “Involution,” gradually letting the song evolve into a lumbering, turning riff before the vocals kick in. If The Psalm starts to feel samey at any point in its duration, it’s with “Involution,” which, like the cut before it, has a break and then a stylistic shift at the end, but a somewhat less effective one. More death metal than black, but since some elements of death metal have been worked in all along, it’s less of a standout when the guitar takes over for a chugging breakdown riff. All told, it’s not a bad way to transition into the Cerebral Fix cover, but there’s something about the way it doesn’t “pop” from the song that leads me to think I should be feeling something here I’m just not. “Feast of the Fools,” taken from the UK death metal outfit’s 1990 Tower of Spite LP, doesn’t require much to be changed to make it fit, and Monkeypriest use it as yet another signal of their love of the more extreme side of metal before the white noise intro to “Capharnaum” brings back the plodding, labored feel of “Involution” and “The Psalm.”
As the finale, “Our Kingdom (Involution Pt. II)” finds room for The Psalm’s only excursion into semi-clean vocals and adds another three-plus minutes to the standard Monkeypriest modus operandi, a more memorable death metal riff than that which reared its head on the original “Involution” providing a last-minute highlight in the song’s back half. Their sound hits with an appropriate amount of pummel, and unlike many who follow the neo-sludge ethic of including more extreme passages, Monkeypriest seem to keep a firm hand on the riff-based groove at the root of the genre. The Psalm isn’t packed with surprises, but there are a few, and for those, it’s bound to offer angrier heads a quality listen.
Tags: Andalusia, Féretro Records, Monkeypriest, Sevilla, Spain