Monolord, No Comfort: Truth Found in Time

monolord no comfort

Guitarist/vocalist Thomas Jäger, bassist Mika Häkki and drummer Esben Willems, collectively known as Gothenburg’s Monolord, have had an impact on this decade of heavy in a way that few bands who actually belong to it have done. Their rise in influence and stature would seem fast were it not for all the work they’ve put in over the last five-plus years, touring, writing, recording and releasing. A streak of three massively successful outings on RidingEasy Records in 2014’s Empress Rising, 2015’s Vænir (review here) and 2017’s Rust (review here), as well as an increasing tour profile in Europe and the US, led to Relapse Records getting behind the fourth, and the six-track/48-minute No Comfort is the result, recorded by Kim Gravander with mixing by Willems and containing the band’s most atmospheric and complex material to-date. That continues a pattern of growth that Empress Rising set in motion as well as a next-stage-arrival communicated through the greater stylistic reach of Rust, and sure enough, No Comfort takes Monolord‘s sound to places it’s never been, from the Floydian stretch of quiet in the penultimate “Alone Together Forever Divided” to the mournful dirge of “Larvae.”

Those hoping to dig into the riffy primitivism of their earlier work will find a measure of solace — that’s not to say comfort — in opener “The Bastard Son” and the shorter “The Last Leaf,” which follows, but even in those, Monolord dig into hypnotic repetition and aren’t afraid to pull the rug out from under their roll in order to make a statement in terms of mood or feeling. Nor should they be, frankly. Such moves are well in their wheelhouse by now, which only emphasizes the compressed timeline of their growth as a unit. It’s been a half-decade since their first record. Some bands don’t even manage to put out a follow-up in that time. Monolord have made a career, established themselves as one of the most pivotal heavy acts in the world, and in No Comfort, landed at a new echelon of substance and style. Not too shabby.

And there is little mistaking No Comfort as anything other than one of 2019’s best releases. Topped with striking cover art by Alexander Fjelnseth, the offering carries an emotional affect even in the solo in the second half of “The Last Leaf,” an overarching spirit of melancholy residing in its layers in a way that one wouldn’t necessarily anticipate, even after Rust. Make no mistake, Monolord‘s core approach is still based around riffs and the pummeling therewith, but their methods have shifted, are shifting, and even the title No Comfort feels like the declaration of an ideal they’re chasing as they push themselves toward more resonant songcraft. It’s obviously not the way the vinyl would work — that would be three songs on a side, each with two longer songs (the second longer than the first) sandwiched around a shorter one — but if one takes No Comfort in thirds, its progression becomes all the more evident.

monolord

They have always and continue to excel at creating a sense of march. Willems as a drummer is a master of it, and the riffs brought to bear by Jäger and made even thicker and more vital by Häkki‘s bass are plenty of dirge fodder to be sure. But even as they plod their way through the side A finale “Larvae” after “The Bastard Son” and “The Last Leaf,” there’s a turn evident toward a doomed melancholy. “Larvae” and the subsequent melodic highlight “Skywards” — it’s (probably past) time to start considering Jäger as a vocalist rather than a guitar player who sings, even with the steady use of effects on his voice — take the initial shove of the opening duo and prove even more immersive, drawing the listener deeper into No Comfort‘s ambience without giving up the heavy vibe to do so. This ends up as one of the record’s great strengths: Monolord‘s ability to grow without compromising who they are and have been thus far into their tenure.

Those effects on Jäger‘s vocals play a part in that, as they continue to sound overwhelmed by his riffing, creating a sense of largesse, but it’s clear in every element that makes No Comfort just how in command Monolord are of their craft, and their material here both signals and succeeds in its intent, as “Alone Together Forever Divided” and “No Comfort” add to the sense of longing so prevalent in “Skywards.” “Alone Together Forever Divided” is the shortest track on the outing at just over five minutes, but it’s the structural change that gives it its effect on what surrounds. The bulk of it is quiet, atmospheric guitar set to a mellow roll, quiet and led more by the vocals than a riff, though there’s a definite groove behind, held together by Willems and Häkki, that moves toward a burst of sonic weight in the second half, a nod taking hold for a time before receding again to let the quiet guitar finish out in contemplative fashion. It’s a marked and purposeful change in approach, essentially turning Monolord‘s methodology on its head, but given how they’ve led into it across the songs prior, including “Skywards,” it also makes sense, and works double as a lead-in for the the 11-minute title-track that rounds out.

With trades in volume as they move through the verses and chorus, the mood on “No Comfort” itself remains primary, and summarizes well the balance of heft and inward-looking sprawl that the songs before have brought together. In linear format — CD/DL — the outward movement of “No Comfort” is even more resounding, but however you take it, No Comfort is the triumph Monolord need at a crucial moment for the band. They have not given up on the root appeal of bashing out wave after wave of dense riff barrage, but they’ve also stayed true to an impulse toward sonic evolution that points the way forward for years to come. Four albums in and just getting started? Maybe. Whatever happens and however No Comfort is received, it is an album that clearly states and meets its own goals. It sets its terms and then brings the listener along its path. It affects the mind of its audience. It is not to be overlooked.

Monolord, “The Last Leaf” official video

Monolord on Thee Facebooks

Monolord on Instagram

Monolord on Bandcamp

Relapse Records website

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One Response to “Monolord, No Comfort: Truth Found in Time”

  1. Mike H says:

    Best review of the album I have read yet and they have all been good. A week…really…

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