Eternally kissing their trumpet lips atop spiked marble obelisks the ceramic angels of the ossuary bear eyes tired and knowing from years of morbid tourism that’d wear the concrete tiles beneath their perch. Centered and hung high in their four poster formation is one of several chandelier of iron, draped with a fringe of a hundred radius and ulna. A maze of jawless human skulls and crossed humerus carries beyond the curves of the chandelier as if popcorn strung upon a Christmas tree, lining the sconces of the entire ceiling. Chalice, crown, archway and even an artful recreation of an aristocratic Franco-Bohemian family coat-of-arms adorn the work of František Rint who would create the macabre spectacle when entrusted with ‘stacking’ the bones of an unearthed mass grave, years after the Black Death had its way with what is todays Czech Republic, for the sake of a renovation and expansion of the ossuary. If only the bones of the dead hung in every building we enter today our inescapable mortality may not appear so frightful. Human remains are such effective and lasting reminders of our past-and-present resilience (and cruelty) in the face of certain doom. Cracow, Poland based epic doom metal project Monasterium evoke a healthy amount of ye olde Roman-Catholic starkly macabre worldview within their brilliant sophomore full-length ‘Church of Bones’, a refined but deeply traditional achievement in epic/heavy doom metal.
Formed between members of progressive metal band Sadman Institute and epic heavy/doom metal project Evangelist, Monasterium will undoubtedly resemble the great works of Evangelist thanks to the shared vocal talents of Michał Strzelecki but at a base level it would be fair to say the core of their intent comes from the classic four album run of Swedish epic doom metal legends Candlemass in the late 80’s. If you’d discovered Strzelecki‘s Scald-esque vocal register through Evangelist‘s brilliant ‘Deus Vult’ and wanted something a bit less dramatically presented, I wouldn’t say this is any less expressive but perhaps more traditionally paced. In fact they appear to pull not only from epic doom metal history but epic heavy and 80’s power metal most often in creating vocal melodies that resemble Heavy Load or Manowar balladry more than they would say, Solitude Aeturnus. There is a balance therein between performance and sheer heaviness that separates Monasterium just slightly from the power-metallic wailing of Below or Sorcerer (Sweden) and towards the realm of Procession and their ilk. It is a very fine line to draw but not an entirely arbitrary one as Monasterium still manage to be effective as guitar music beyond the vocal work in hand.
Gnostic text, the Holy Roman Empire, and deep-diving references to the Knights Templar bring a similar perspective to that explored on ‘Deus Vult’ last year but Monasterium do take detours into more fantastical territory here and there. The most striking moment that ultimately defines the listening experience comes with the final track, “The Last Templar”, which reads as a dialogue between Grand Master of the Knights Templar Jacques De Molay and King Philip IV, who’d infamously framed the Templar leadership and disbanded the order to avoid his personal debts to the order. The song reads as a forced confession between the two characters with Leo Stivala (Forsaken) playing the role of De Molay while also harmonizing beautifully with Strzelecki on the chorus. Though the themes are brutally dark throughout the lyrics are typically from a ‘god-fearing’ perspective, a contemplation of duty and consequence that thankfully never breaks the proverbial fourth wall towards preaching.
Plain and plodding as the well-worn epic doom metal fan might find ‘Church of Bones’ in passing, a deeper examination of Monasterium‘s second album reveals what is (so far) their masterpiece in terms of guitar work, melodic interest, and overall variation. Shades of Dio-era Sabbath, 90’s Saint Vitus, and post-‘Tales of Creation’ Messiah Marcolin lead Memento Mori find their way into the heavier guitar work on ‘Church of Bones’ but without any of the bluesy 70’s heavy rock affect bleeding through. There is a ‘true’ metal feeling expressed within Monasterium‘s epic pieces that feels ancient but not sparse or tonally over-extended like comparable 80’s metal. In this sense ‘Church of Bones’ is a modern and impressively refined round of heavy/doom metal that manages to keep it true without pandering too far in the past or into the realm of stoned excess and psychedelia. It may be a dry niche for some less-specific doom metal fans but epic heavy metal attuned listeners will find great value within. I think Evangelist‘s fine album late last year primed me for reception of ‘Church of Bones’ and found myself similarly drawn to it for many listens. There is no filler, nothing out of place, no crooked edges only plaster and marble masterpiece within Monasterium‘s dark cathedral and I find their work well above average. Highly recommended. For preview I’d say the opener and “Ferrier of the Underworld” make grand first impressions but the song that stuck with me most, that I’d look forward to every listen, was undoubtedly “La Danse Macabre”.
Death will follow your descent. 4.0/5.0
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