MONASTERIUM – Cold Are The Graves (2022)REVIEW

In reinforcing their dedication to the true spirit of heavy metal as they see it Kraków, Poland-based epic heavy/doom metal quartet Monasterium take their most dire, dead serious tone in deliverance of narrative beset by sanctimonious martyr, sword n’ medieval sorcery and a general muse upon mortality for their third and finest album. By way of concentric, hymnal drawl the masses-fleecing spirit of ‘Cold are the Graves‘ provides frequent reminder that death and enlightenment are one and the same, making loud and clear the point that life is ephemeral and the clock is running out no matter our purpose, or lack thereof. The message, if I can paraphrase with any naïve certainty, is not to sour and wilt under the power of Death but to embrace the eustress available to those whom acknowledge, rather than fear, the end and be empowered by it as if sacred knowledge.

You’ll find well enough information about the past history of this southern Polish quartet’s beginnings and discography in my extensive review of their second album ‘Church of Bones‘ (2019), a rare success in terms of a sophomore release which cemented Monasterium‘s style with strong-enough signature while providing a high traditional sub-genre standard. It’d also implicated the brilliant narrative talents within the band while also clearly reeking of a lineage of epic doom metal derived from the more serious dramatics of 80’s Candlemass, featuring some familiar theatrics found in related band Evangelist alongside some slight progressive turns taken, which I’d likened to something in between Scald and Memento Mori without the blues rock impetus of heavy metal (see: Dio-era Black Sabbath) in mind. For this third album the band focus on their epic heavy metal intent and the slow burn of their pacing to develop something more distinctly heavy metal and always ‘in character’ no matter the subject matter. Though the ingredients for very traditional epic doom metal of the Svensk origin are here in spirit we get far more ‘Sign of the Hammer‘-era Manowar moments on this album, not so much the bolt-charging pieces but the slower, more involved epics likewise found on parts of ‘The Triumph of Steel‘ (“Spirit Horse of the Cherokee”). This is not the best example at face value as Monasterium are quite a bit more skilled and deliberate with their composition, able to better hone storytelling into tuneful, or, at least memorable songwriting yet the natural shapes of early 80’s heavy/power metal are nonetheless guiding the proverbial ship.

Opener “The Stigmatic” and its opening lines “Witness the lashes on my back, irreverent you stare” is of course a reference to those who wear the marks of the crucifixion of Christ as badges of purpose, a fittingly dramatic opening statement for a band who’ve often made reference to similar subject matter, be it the Knights Templar or the general legacy of various saints and holy roman military. Highlighting religious brutality is perhaps for the sake of reminding the listener of their very mortality at every turn (see: inscription on the album art) is not dissimilar to the modus of Evangelist in terms of lyrics wherein the artist might’ve been referring to a crucial, quite real event from the Crusades in one song and perhaps about R.E. Howard‘s Conan series the next. Beyond making “Cimmeria” all the more difficult to parse as either a real reference to ancient Crimea and its many triumphant stands or its fictive version from a well known fantasy series, this allows Monasterium to narrate within extremes, from a time and place of pronounced zealotry and mayhem. Needless to say if you’re keen to a lot of ancient Christian brutality and mythos plus a bit of classic fantasy literature (much of which was a bit Old Testament derived to begin with…), such as the Arthurian legendry found on “Seven Swords Of Wayland”, there’ll be plenty of smartly curated reference to sink into when faced with the lyrical spread of ‘Cold are the Graves‘.

I feel death is at my door tonight…” — Set just a few pieces into the first half of the album the crux of the full listen is, for my own taste, “The Great Plague”. This is arguably the most late 80’s Candlemass-drawn piece on the album in terms of the lurking, drawn-out development of vocal cadence. A fine example of what Monasterium do best, a form of heavy metal which demands patience from the listener within larger-than-life slow dancing of form and phrase, this song illustrates an obvious enough sentiment enough to entertain the willingly engaged mind while purposefully belaboring the scenery for the sake of their stylized coloration of epic doom metal tenet. In plain English? They’ve made a tuneful, signature piece out of an arguably inherently derivative form, staying true to traditional heavy metal while maintaining their own point of view. This draws a clear line between perceived “innovation” and craftsmanship but the alignment is well-earned and still very much laudable, it is tough ask to operate with such bravado despite the strictures of various tradition fully engaged. Monasterium generally push beyond this moment with various acoustic guitar framed pieces and brilliantly dramatic doom metal cinema abounding yet you’ll have achieved the greater spiritus of their gig as a listener around the midpoint of the full listen.

Though each song on the album lands somewhere nearby ~5-6 minutes and regale us with a similar feat as ‘Church of Bones‘ in most respects, this set doesn’t necessarily drag as much for the sake of greater focus on tuneful, concentrically drawn melodies. That isn’t to say that you’ll be able to stomach the full listen on repeat for hours on end if you’ve no real ear for dramatic heavy metal balladeering in this style already established but that they’ve provided well enough reason to go back and raise a fist along with each song. I’d found most pieces on ‘Cold are the Graves‘ hang in the air in a similar way that Solitude Aeturnus‘ ‘Into the Depths of Sorrow‘ did, not quite as thrashing but in that headspace with a bit of Heavy Load or Manowar in mind (see: “The Siege”.) For the initiated this modus could resound as drawn out to the point of bliss or it could read as elaboration to the point of pain for the plainly curious. As with the previous record the ‘hook’ of the full listen is subtle and perhaps dramatic to the point of passionate abandon (“Remembered”) yet that’ll the right stuff for the heavy metal addict who’d dabble in epic doom metal or 80’s power metal fandom with a taste for traditional doom metal as well.

From my point of view Monasterium have pulled the reigns into the exact right ride on this third album, doubling down on their already apparent love of traditional heavy metal beyond a very fine second album while further developing their ability to not only set a scene but tell a story which reflects their interests and vivified purpose herein. ‘Cold are the Graves‘ miraculously avoids a stale presence for the sake of its well-crafted movement along a thread of stomping heavy metal songs. Though the ‘dramatics’ are on high it reflects on them as a band acting with great passion for the genre, wearing that mark proudly. Their goal of reinforcing the soul of true heavy metal is well achieved herein and I am left impressed by the overall refined and rousing experience they’ve served beyond the last. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. 82/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Cold are the Graves
LABEL(S):Nine Records
RELEASE DATE:June 10th, 2022

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