Doom doesn’t have to mean gloom. Just ask Poland’s Monasterium. As many others before them, they’ve cleared the tricky sophomore album hurdle with aplomb on Church of Bones. Not only that, but it’s so theatrical and fun that you’d be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t the heavy-metal soundtrack to a Hammer horror film. That’s meant as a compliment, by the way.
The grandiose music combined with vocalist Michał Strzelecki’s epic vocals makes for a real stormer of an album. Imagine if Candlemass had ever paired up with Ronnie James Dio and that’s roughly the ballpark we’re playing in. That means big riffs, a heavy bass, and some very overwrought, almost operatic vocals. Altogether, this aspect very much suits the album’s focus on death and the occult.
The album opener and title track looks at the (in)famous bone chapels of Europe. The most relevant one to this album would be Poland’s Skull Chapel. As the name suggests, it is a chapel in which the walls are filled with skulls – and those of its builders are on the altar. Perfect setting for a horror movie, no? The lyrics are as perfectly grim as you could wish for on a doom-metal record: “There is no meaning to our bones/So come here and contemplate/We are brethren in this fate.” We are all brothers in death and meaningless in the face of our inevitable end. But when such lyrics are served by riffs and vocals as bombastic as these, it’s easy to overlook their nihilistic misery. Strzelecki genuinely sounds like Dio himself, with a slightly deeper, richer tone to his voice – perfect for fantastical lyrics about death.
Elsewhere, fans of the occult will want to pay attention to “Liber Loagaeth,” a song all about a grimoire written by John Dee and Edward Kelley. Dee was court magician for Queen Elizabeth I and the grimoire itself is written in Enochian, supposedly the language that God and Adam shared in the Garden of Eden. The lyrics here are suitably camp: “I scry in my crystal ball/I see beginning when all things were named/When Eden fell the words were lost/Now they are foretelling me the end.” Now do you see my point about a Hammer horror movie? It’s worth noting here that the occult, particularly the rites and tales surrounding death, take a lot of inspiration from mythology. So, following on from “Liber Loagaeth,” it’s only fitting that “Ferrier of the Underworld” discusses none other than Charon, who would ferry souls into the afterlife in Greek mythology. The excellent guitar work, courtesy of Tomasz Gurgul, is some of this year’s best so far.
Death and the occult are fascinating subjects for any band to explore, but it’s refreshing to see a band have so much fun doing so. More often than not, death is an emotive subject – see “No Grave Deep Enough” from Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand by Primordial for an excellent example. So too is the occult taken very seriously, as Sabbath Assembly demonstrate. There are also some more serious moments on the album – Monasterium are a doom metal band, after all. “Sleeping With The Dead” is a relatively sombre song, as is “Embrace the Void.”
Overall, the theatrics that Monasterium employ give their chosen topics a schlocky, B-movie edge that honestly makes me smile. The bass-driven riffs and thunderous drums are not just a vehicle for Strzelecki’s Dio-esque vocals and the album’s esoteric themes. They are the soundtrack to an excellent heavy-metal horror film, one that I cannot wait to see.