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Monument

Sweden Country of Origin: Sweden

Monument
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Type: Full-Length
Release Date: October 20th, 2003
Genre: Doom, Heavy
1. Ulvaskall (Vargr)
2. Summer Solstice
3. Brotherhood Of Sleep
4. Baptised In Fire
5. Chooser Of The Slain (Valfader)
6. Food Of The Gods
7. He Who Seeks Shall Find


Review by Rosh on October 9, 2023.

As you tremble through the snow-covered expanse of Northern lands, banished to the wild to die in solitude, you can feel a stoicism building inside you, fueled by the convictions you held that got you cast out in the first place, and perhaps a lust for vengeance against your once-brethren. In the realm of traditional heavy/doom metal with epic leanings, ordeals such as these are paramount to conveying the adventurous feel of the music, but no such outing captures the snowy, trudging feel of a Scandinavian survivalist's journey quite like the sophomore album of Sweden's Grand Magus, Monument. This band has become quite the staple of modern traditional metal with time, shifting their sound more towards doom or power metal depending on the release, but they actually debuted as sort of chilled and groovy heavy rock band in 2001. I like the band's self-titled effort for what it is, but Monument improves upon it in every respect, being a much beefier and more potent album, sitting comfortably in traditional heavy and doom metal territory, while being distinct within both respective styles. That distinction is something Grand Magus would not keep on subsequent albums as they got more comfortable among the New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal, with only touches of doom (though I enjoy their entire output). Nonetheless, Monument stands out as just that in the Swede's discography.

To merely say that Grand Magus' sophomore effort is underappreciated would be extremely inadequate at conveying just how unique it is. I mean, there's a handful of things that make this album an enigma. See, in 2003, traditional doom wasn't quite as dead as many would lead you to believe, it's just that the handful of labels and artists pumping out Sabbathian stuff were largely overshadowed or soon to be overshadowed by stoner-sludge or otherwise modernized acts (you know, that High on Fire/The Sword/Mastodon-type clique of bands), so therefore it was more of an underground phenomenon in heavy metal; debut albums from doom metal bands like Reverend Bizarre, Orodruin, and The Gates of Slumber were coming out around the early-mid 2000's, and likewise Pentagram made a comeback album in 2004, while the Maryland doom scene still existed despite staple bands like The Obsessed and Iron Man taking a break. So where am I going with all this? Well, as splendid as the material from these bands during this time period was, I would argue that an album like Monument deserves every bit as much credit as the contemporary doom circa 2003, credit it does not get due to this band becoming more traditional metal on subsequent releases.

Really though, Monument is a much different traditional heavy/doom metal album than anything you'd hear from the aforementioned doom heroes or most doom and heavy/doom bands since, because it's far more anthem-driven and trudging, not to mention the frosty feeling I previously mentioned, certainly starting the now ubiquitous Viking attitude Grand Magus have adopted. Tracks like opener "Ulvaskall (Vargr)" or the fifth track "Chooser of the Slain (Valfader)" feel so uplifting and stoic because Grand Magus are able to instantly create a vast and immersive atmosphere with the monolithic yet cozy guitar and bass tones, somewhat "bluesy" doominess (which is another unique trait of this album, giving the doomy segments a distinct feel of being next to a meager lean-to fire in a cavern), and the steadfast stomp the music has to it, while the choruses themselves will certainly put some hair on your chest too. To me, the music's stomp coupled with its groove is a bit like the lovechild of the heavier side of old school doom (Candlemass, Cathedral, Trouble) and the more rock 'n' roll side of it (The Obsessed, Witchfinder General) drank a whole lot of whiskey and starting doing a lot of pushups in a cabin somewhere cold or something.

Anyway, the uniqueness of this album mentioned in the above paragraph leads me into my next point, and that is that Monument is a Rise Above Records album, and frankly, Rise Above is a label that does not just produce bands, they produces experiences. Whether it's the infamously misanthropic Electric Wizard, the occult pop-metal of Ghost, the psychedelic style of Uncle Acid, the balls-out rock 'n' roll of Orange Goblin, or whatever else, ALL their bands are known for something, and so Grand Magus was clearly Rise Above's answer to Viking-themed heavy/doom metal. However, I think Monument went above and beyond in this department, since it truly transports the listener to frostbane Scandinavia on a journey of exile, with every track feeling like a different part of that journey. The opening track is the overture for the journey, and the next two tracks keep up this energy, before hunkering down with the bass-driven "Baptised in Fire", which is actually far more relaxing than anything Sleep or Acid King have come up with. The last three songs, meanwhile, feel more penultimate, as though everything is at stake, which is proven by the final mammoth of a song titled "He Who Seeks... Shall Find", the main progression of which reminds me of reaching the peak of a snow-covered mountain.

Overall, Monument is way too underrated within its niche for the feeling, power, and uniqueness it offers, and it was an instant favorite as soon as I heard it. I feel that there's a ton of bands who take influence from traditional doom but end up just playing regular old Black Sabbath, Pentagram, or Saint Vitus inspired music, and while that stuff can be pretty great, it's nice to see an album with such unique personality as Monument. For this reason, it's a metal album I really come back to and I even keep an extra CD copy of it in my car because I can never get tired of it. Definitely Grand Magus' best album!

Rating: 9.7 out of 10

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