Monsterworks – Scale and Probability (2018) REVIEW

The grand lede of New Zealand by way of London progressive metal band Monsterwork‘s sixteenth release since 1996 is the Fermi Paradox suggested by Italian physicist Enrico Fermi in 1950. A master of both theory and experimental design Fermi is credited with work formative to the creation of nuclear power generation as well as statistical models and methodology important for communicating quantum mechanics. The paradox, later expanded upon by American astrophysicist Michael H. Hart, posits the disconnect between the high statistical probability of extraterrestrial life existing and lack of evidence for existence. If the Drake equation suggests between 1000 and 100 million civilizations possible in the Milky Way galaxy, some 70 years later humanity has clearly been lax in only coming up with at least 20-30 reasonable educated guesses as to why we haven’t seen them.

Monsterworks actually cuts quickly to the chase of what I initially consider the best explanation, in terms of the question being asked, on the opening track “The Great Silence”. The reason we haven’t discovered extraterrestrial life is that for life on Earth “Existing is the only underlying responsibility” where greater exploration, and the ability to acquire and apply knowledge/skills, ultimately reaches a peak within the limited terrarium of Earth. Lifespan, knowledge, communication, and environment can never match the greater scale of the universe and the slow-burn of evolutionary intelligence (and thrill of scientific theory) is a flawed game of ‘telephone’. Man cannot ever hope to physically explore the universe on the scale necessary to make actual discovery, and report, a high enough probability. The limitations of senses, lifespan, and resources necessary renders discovery of other life impossible. The unfortunate reality is that most answers render the thinker agnostic or at least not far from Parmenides‘ school of perception. Every explanation is a good trap to fall into and in landing upon any satisfactory answer the loop of logic suggests that there is still no evidence we as flawed creations could ever hope to understand.

‘Scale and Probability’ doesn’t wrestle with the thought experiment so much as it explores choice hypotheses: Technological singularity as a certain path to destruction, the Zoo hypothesis which echoes the Star Trek series’ prime directive, the suggestion that any galaxy-trekker would likely be resource starved and aggressively invasive/destructive, and that Earth could be billions of years pubescent to ever warrant any such visit or reveal. Ultimately we arrive at the simplest hypothesis that suggests we are alone, the Earth is finite and singular, and Monsterworks submit that perhaps this anomaly of existence is special enough to care for and preserve. This does not at all answer the question so much as it suggests that mathematics and reasoning cannot account for an outlier considering itself the basal norm. I’ve found that regardless of how trained a person can be in scientific thought and reasoning they ultimately consider existence and reality in orbit of their perception. This is a natural biological indicator of predatory evolution towards extinction, with existence offering no physical challenge the mind defeats selection and therefore a lack of responsibility towards habitat or population dissolves the species.

With sixteen releases across roughly twenty years of existence Monsterworks have had 3-4 main ‘breakthroughs’ in terms of discovering their songwriting niche, blending multitudes of extreme metal influence with different line-ups, and overall modus. You can absolutely still recognize that the New Zealand based line-up on demos ‘Dormant’ (1998) and ‘Delusions of Grandeur’ (1999) features some of the same musicians that appear on ‘Scale and Probability’. By 2002 guitarist Ian and vocalist/guitarist Jono Blade (Jon Higgs) had both relocated to London, England and though their own style remained, the proceeding new line-ups produced an odd mix of groove metal and death metal that would quickly evolve towards progressive metal with almost yearly full-length iteration since. Most of thier early discography is hard to find online or just not very good. The project was at it’s best within higher concept and 2007’s chuggy prog-metal epic ‘Spatial Operations’ was a leap in ambition in the form of a science fiction opus that paired with their 2009 follow-up ‘The God Album’. This was more or less the Mark III phase of the band as guitarist Ian left after ‘Spatial Operations’ and the style of the band was somewhat ‘up in the air’ afterwards.

Unless you’re having some sort of fanatical reaction to Monsterworks‘ sound, I would probably suggest starting with ‘Album of Man’ and listening your way towards ‘Scale and Probability’. Not only was the post-2009 line-up more solidified at that point but the overall fidelity of recording hit a sweet spot in 2012. The themes on each record from this point are fixated on independent critical thinking, the ‘big picture’ of humanity, and from ‘Earth’ to ‘Universe’ the lyrics explored the entirety of life’s existence. ‘Overhaul’ posited solutions that might delay the inevitable destruction of the human species, and the planet. Up to this point in the band’s discography I found the mix of heavy, stoner, prog, and death metal with alternative rock tones fell closest to the later experimental releases from Alchemist without such a focus on pop music song structures. Distinct vocals from Blade really end up being the constant and most effective personality of the band but the laid back, almost stoned and jazzy, hard rock feeling of the records leading up to ‘Black Swan Annihilation’ in 2016 all felt pretty flat for me.

When concept and sound finally collided with intentional conveyance, ‘Black Swan Annihilation’ actually sounded like the surprise apocalypse that would end humanity that was described in the lyrics. It seems that having to struggle with some technical issues slowed the momentum of the Monsterworks machine and in turn the overspill of ideas lead to something more thoughtful and varied since. The bones for 2017 full-length ‘Alternātum’ were apparently laid out in the struggle to release ‘Black Swan Annihilation’ and while some of the loud-quiet-loud of that album carried through the performances and mix really reached a new level of quality on ‘Alternātum’. This is likely due to two things; one is some greater doom/post-metal influence ‘modernizing’ their progressive metal sound paired with a classy mastering job by Dan Swanö himself that was optimized for high-dynamic range fidelity. This makes an incredible difference for both the audiophile and the casual listener as the legions of deafening metal releases sound like abrasive garbage next to greater dynamics. Your ears know better, even if you don’t.

‘Alternātum’ was an impressive step forward both in terms of fidelity and a more vigorous and modern stylistic approach from Monsterworks. The tonal shift is not far from the difficult to describe sound of The Flight of Sleipnir on ‘Essence of Nine’ and beyond with some of the epic meandering of Stangala warmed over with a semi-gloss modern production. ‘Scale and Probability’ appears with greater interconnected flow and a cleaner melding of styles. The death and black metal influences are less sudden ‘aesthetic’ sonic reference and now more of a gilding for intense builds. Softer moments no longer feel stark-nakedly jammed or overly Floyd-ian in their spaced-out stretches. It builds upon the experience of ‘Alternātum’ and delivers an album as fittingly epic for it’s concept as ‘Album of Man’ was back in 2012 but with tonality far more inclusively yanked from every corner of extreme heavy metal. I get a sort of ‘epic’ feeling similar to Pallbearer, a hint of Altars of Grief‘s melodrama, and the crawling lushness of The Flight of Sleipnir and still the clear and thoughtful wisdom of Monsterworks persists.

The great feat of any such anomalous ‘thinking man’s band’ like Monsterworks is that even if you can’t be bothered to care about the depth of it all, or the beauteous dynamic hi-fi sound, the album still plays wonderfully as a casual listen. They’ve done all the heavy lifting and thinking for you without creating a daunting or overtly ‘challenging’ musical experience. Hell, they’ve even included an actual copy of the booklet when you download it something most bands/labels don’t do at all. Being able to read the lyrics and see the artwork of the insert shouldn’t be such a rarity. I would so much prefer to support bands like this that care about the listening experience and this sort of treatment should be expected. For the ever-indecisive seeking preview I’d suggest “The Great Silence” is an obvious standout and the closer “Ockham’s Razor” as it’s great and equal achievement but I’d also point to the pairing of “Cosmic Deadly Probe” and “The Reveal” as an admirable peak in the middle of the tracklist.

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Artist Monsterworks
Type Album
Released May 4, 2018
BUY/LISTEN on Monsterworks’ Bandcamp! Follow Monsterworks on Facebook
Genres Progressive Metal

Persuasion wholly unknowable. 4.0/5.0

 

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