Monte Luna, Drowners’ Wives: Open World Gameplay

monte luna drowners wives

With Drowners’ Wives, their second album, Austin, Texas’ Monte Luna not only make their debut on Argonauta Records but show a clear sense of having learned a few crucial lessons from their first about their overall direction and what they’re looking to accomplish as a band. At roughly 34 minutes long, Drowners’ Wives takes its central lyrical inspiration from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, with Drowners being a kind of monster one encounters that eats corpses. Fun. Despite this cohesion of theme, its shortened runtime is a bit over half the length of that 71-minute 2017 self-titled (review here), but with both albums carrying six component tracks, the change comes from writing shorter songs rather than simply including less of them. The longest cut on Drowners’ Wives, for example, is the 8:30 closer “Scenes from a Marriage,” with its deep-mixed organ, atmospheric vocal swirl in the second half, and scathing screams in its later apex capping the record. Time well spent, to be sure, and not an insignificant length by most measures. In relation to the debut, apart from the four-minute “The Burning of Elohim,” which was more or less an intro (if one with vocals), “Scenes from a Marriage” would be more than a minute shorter than the next shortest track, which itself was something of an aberration for being under 12 minutes long.

Clearly a change in intent on the part of bassist/guitarist/vocalist James Clarke and drummer/effects-specialist Phil Hook, and one that, honestly works to the benefit of allowing the material on Drowners’ Wives to shine and giving each song a better chance of being digested by the average listener. That’s not to decry a long album generally or to take anything away from Monte Luna‘s first outing, which was a grower and a righteous one at that, just to note that in this case, the approach they take is to the benefit of highlighting a more diverse sound. It is one bolstered as well by a few guest appearances throughout. Jaime Ramirez handles the aforementioned organ on “Scenes from a Marriage” and also “Man of Glass,” while Tommy Munter plays bass on the speedy-shuffling side A closer “Night of Long Fangs,” Jeff Klien guitar on chug-fuzzed second cut “The Butcher of Blaviken” and Steve Colca of Destroyer of Light on opener “The Water Hag,” which builds its riff from the ground up at the outset of the record and engages a call and response vocally during the verse between Clarke and Colca that is an effective initial hook in itself while still providing one of Drowners’ Wives‘ heaviest and most lumbering riffs. Perhaps unsurprisingly there’s stiff competition in that regard, but if anything, Monte Luna emphasize this time out that they’re not just interested in unipolarity as a band. They’re here to do more than bludgeon with tone and crash, and the manner in which they realize that assertion in these six songs suits them remarkably well, and while any record that features a list of guests that’s longer than the list of actual members runs the risk of seeing the core band’s identity subsumed, Monte Luna run into no such trouble. By the time they’re through “The Butcher of Blaviken,” it’s clear who they are. They’re the ones doing whatever the hell they want and pulling it off.

monte luna

To wit, the later reaches of “The Butcher of Blaviken” devolve the emergent plod into an outward-bound instrumental jam that seems to churn itself to pieces as it works toward its eventual end. There’s a memorable lead line included there, but still. That makes “Night of Long Fangs” all the more a punch to the face when it starts its immediately and brash sub-four-minute pummel, with early High on Fire‘s marauding sensibility given more stylistic breadth and malleable vocals. As it invariably would, the uptick of speed leads to a slowdown in the back half of “Night of Long Fangs” — about, of course, a vampire hunt — and the thicker riff that takes hold soon enough cedes ground to a drone and Hook‘s drumming on “Wild Hunt,” which, whether it’s considered an interlude on a linear format or an intro to side B of the vinyl is a well-positioned momentary breather that nonetheless expands the reach of Drowners’ Wives as a whole through its tribalism and ambient aspects, setting up a dug-in closing duo in “Man of Glass” and “Scenes from a Marriage” that feels all the more urgent upon arrival and thus all the more effective. There’s a down-to-sludge-rock-business feel that pervades the beginnings of both songs that’s enough to make me wonder if they were written first, but they’re well paired either way, both moving into harsher vocals even as the otherwise massively-toned guitars prove expansive and Clarke‘s voice presents a gamut of influences from Bongzilla to Queens of the Stone Age, depending on what the song calls for at the time.

That last part is perhaps the key to understanding where Monte Luna are coming from on Drowners’ Wives. While they’ve based the album’s theme around Witcher lore and have at least at one or two points they use samples direct from the game itself, the chief accomplishment of the album is how much the two-piece make the sound their own. It might seem counterintuitive, with itinerant company coming through even unto the organ in “Scenes from a Marriage,” but none of the contributions feels superfluous in terms of the material’s impact, which remains the central concern no matter where an individual piece might go, be it “The Water Hag” with its swinging catchiness or the intensity that crowns the finale. Monte Luna thrives in each scenario they present here not just because they add elements to arrangements of their own guitar, bass, drums and/or vocals, but because those additions make the songs a richer listening experience. It seems like a simple idea, but it’s not always so easy when it comes to execution, and having shorter tracks is a part of it as well. I won’t profess to know what they might do their next time out, but for the sense of themselves and the will toward individualism they so strongly declare across Drowners’ Wives, it’ll be all the more exciting to find out.

Monte Luna, Drowners’ Wives (2019)

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Monte Luna on Bandcamp

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Argonauta Records website

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2 Responses to “Monte Luna, Drowners’ Wives: Open World Gameplay”

  1. Spencer says:

    JJ, I’m interested in your take on the whole nudity in album art thing. It’s been evident for some time (yes, people do read the hidden photo text) that you are pretty strongly opposed to using the nude female body as a means of sexualization, commercialization or subjugation. However, it seems to me that merely banning all examples of bare breasts or unclad nipples misses the point. Realizing that, as an old white dude, my opinion here is probably unwanted and certainly unqualified, is there any place for the nude form–female or male–in the art and iconography of today’s heavy music? While it’s important to take a stand against blatantly misogynistic and sexist imagery (of which there is clearly no shortage in this musical ecosystem), must all examples of female nudity equal a crushing patriarchy? Becky Cloonan is an amazing artist and who are we to tell her not to show a mermaid’s nipple? To imply that she is betraying her gender with this cover just seems glib. Anyway, I dig this album (and the incredible Pan’s Labyrinth/Jason with a chicken press photo!) and Becky Cloonan’s art (pretty much all of it) and I really dig your writing (also pretty much all of it). Thanks for all of your hard work spreading the heavy (sorry that sounds kind of gross)! Cheers,

    –Spencer

    • JJ Koczan says:

      You’ll note though that the album cover is there, not at all banned. I’ll definitely say I’ve not posted art before in the past, so I take your point, but I didn’t even “ban” Black Pussy before they changed their name, I just called them out on having a shitty name when I wrote about them. So, you know. Becky Cloonan can obviously draw FUCKING ANYTHING because she’s a genius, and I wouldn’t tell her WHAT to draw and what not to draw anymore than my terrible-at-art ass would tell her HOW to draw it. I think objectification takes many forms and almost all of them are dehumanizing, even those that strive to honor or celebrate. That’s my opinion. I’m one dude with a keyboard and I’m ignorant as shit, so there you go.

      But while I’m here, thank you for reading, thank you for reading the captions (I like to pretend no one does; somehow it makes me more comfortable being honest re: mental state and a whole bunch of other stuff), and thank you for paying attention to things I say, even those you disagree with. That’s way more than I deserve.

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