Monarch’s Sabbracadaver: What is Doom if Not Moody?

  • Kip Wingerschmidt

In the spectrum of doom, mood reigns king; if you’re not establishing a distinct, overpowering vibe with your slow, brooding music, well you’re probably not going to connect with too wide of an audience. Granted, doom is already a largely niche subgenre to begin with, but regardless, mood is crucial to create a deep, dark, quicksand-like (the geological phenomenon, not the band) feeling that welcoming listeners can’t escape from. Otherwise it’s just a few chords or a snail-paced riff that usually repeats over and over and over and over and… well, you get the idea.

Bayonne’s (France, not Jersey you numbskull!) despair-ridden, dystopian-pushing Monarch create such a thick mood in each of the three tracks on new album Sabbracadaver that you’ll need a razor-sharp steak knife to cut through them. For the most part, this is bleak lo-fi drony doom that opts for fuzzy guitar tones and comfortably leaves a little rough rawness around the edges (in a couple places you can hearing amps warming up and switches being turned off, for example), a quality that might detract from the otherworldliness a bit, but thankfully reminds us that there are actual humans behind these instruments (an important attribute that can sometimes get sacrificed in the tr00est doom).

The riffs don’t always stir me into full-on heroin-nod half-head-bangingness as much as I’d like, but I can’t say I was ever really bored throughout this pale journey. Singer Emilie Bresson (aka Eurogirl)’s vocals continually set the stage a cut above your standard doom, alternating between and layering ethereal melodically sung lines with creepy whispering aplenty and heaps of throaty, angst-driven yelling — a rich stylistic combination that really gets the point across.

And there is an experimental-like abstractness to the sound as well. Bassist MicHell Bidegain offers a delightful explanation regarding the band’s creative process: “The raw material we work with emanates directly from our amps. […] In that sense there’s actually a physical dimension in our songwriting: seeing how the amps will respond differently according to how we position ourselves in front of them to achieve, for example, a more droning effect, or harsher feedback… So we can’t really write a song unless we’re in front of stacks of loud amps.” Amen!

Opening track “Pentagrammes”, a seventeen-plus minute trudge in the mud, begins with an extended three-minute intro of buzzing, minimalistic feedback, whispers/muttering voices and textural layers that sets the stage quite nicely for the song’s meandering riffage to slowly batter itself into your dome.

But that’s not to say it necessarily feels repetitive; there are definitely some variations on the main riff along with additional sonic elements (including occasional pick scrapes and feedback rushes) and even a subtle guitarmony at one point, but again the diversity of the vocals really help to keep the mood present and moving forward throughout.

Falsetto vocal harmonies rest atop the pummeling of the instruments, and the effect is quite gorgeous at times. Plus when Bresson yells her lungs out you can almost see the blood drops falling on a blanket of snow, and the immediate urgency in her voice almost gives the feeling that she is being dragged away against her will (profundity alert: perhaps by her own darkness?)

By the time we reach the song’s, ahem, six-plus-minute outro, some people’s patience may have worn thin, but I urge you to stick with it until the bitter end. The final movement of this track gives the impression of train tracks being (slowly) built while a rickety, falling-apart locomotive looms in the distance, approaching ominously and persistently towards its doom (pun intended). The deliberateness, riff break, and screechy build-up at the end only contribute to the mood. And naturally the final breathy vocal line “She tastes like fear…” adds a wickedly delicate touch to the end of this brooder.

Second song “Louves” is an earnest, almost optimistic jaunt that starts slow and low but escalates into a triumphant reach, still resplendent with all the murky, walking dead riffs you’d probably expect after the first track but with a bit more harmonic richness, building on the sonic foundation laid down prior.  This one also takes its time to get where it’s going, but at a reduced track length (ten minutes, allbeit) and seemingly with more resolve and focus. Around the halfway mark the song reaches a turning point and hurdles towards a lush crescendo.

Third and final track “Mortes” is the longest on the album (just over eighteen-and-a-half minutes), and also the most challenging. It doesn’t really kick in until after the five-minute mark (and even then it’s just guitar/drum hits and whispering for another two-and-a-half minutes), but the haunting ambient textures preceding the actual “music” seem just as integral to the spatial mood. Once the drony riff catches hold, we’re still left with tons of soundscape-y vibe, so much so that the song never really becomes a song, which may leave some traditional doom fans rolling their eyes.

Monarch has been around since 2002 — although the band’s first release, a DOUBLE CD WITH THREE TRACKS (!!!) was in 2005 — and for good reason; this is a noisy, sludgy band unafraid to ask the essential question over and over again: what is doom if it’s not moody?

Monarch’s Sabbracadaver is out now on Profound Lore. You can stream and purchase it here.

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