Album Review: MONUMENTS Phronesis
While to some the djent scene feels still like a blooming subgenre, there have been many developments and offshoots born from the musical style's decade-long life. Of course, there are essential elements such as the palm-muted riffs rich in syncopation and bassy tones as well as a high standard in production quality. But other than those aforementioned characteristics, there is actually a myriad of more variations in djent than meets the eye. For starters, djent allows for vocal deliveries ranging from cleans, screams, growls, or sometimes no vocals at all. It leads to stylistic diversity and fusion with metal genres like metalcore, deathcore, and prog as well as various non-metal genres like pop, groove, rap, and ambient music. Ultimately, djent has seemingly been pigeonholed by its distinct riff style, but there inevitably is an abundance of variety available.
For Monuments, the group established their identity as a proggy djent act with pop/metalcore vocals over their past couple records: Gnosis and The Amanuensis. Considering it has been a long four years between their last release and the new LP, Phronesis, the hype for fresh Monuments material is fervent. Although the djent community was chomping at the bit to hear what the band had ready to serve, there was a mixed reception of the initial singles. Further pursuing how and why this project had harbored semi-disappointment in a portion of their fans, I too felt a bit underwhelmed and uneasy by the musical direction the group was taking on this record.
Even though this album isn't a complete 180 stylistically, it's undeniable that their new sound pushes into accessible/alternative metalcore territory. The heavy element is still present, but there are some more radio-friendly aspects nudging their way into these tracks. Personally, I'd prefer this band to head in a more progressively complex or challenging direction, yet I don't find this shift to be terribly surprising considering many other bands in the djent category have eased back for a more chorus-driven approach: Erra, Veil of Maya, etc.
Monuments haven't necessarily gone "pop" on this album, but this LP certainly comes off as a strange, transitional phase for the group. And although I’m all in favor of experimentation and breaking out of a stylistic comfort zone, this transition feels a bit rough around the edges. Rest assured, Phronesis doesn't represent an extremely noticeable or unnecessary change in focus. There are plenty of classic, enjoyable Monuments bits on this album and certainly, the notion of expanding their palette is commendable. With that being said, there definitely are a few aspects to pick on.
On a couple songs such as "A.W.O.L." or "Hollow King," the mid-range tone of the guitar seems to be fairly low or hidden in the mix. The tracks still possess thick bass thuds, but they lack the full crunchy authentic sound you can hear on previous hits like "Origin of Escape." Furthermore, a large portion of this record is void of the groove trait that was so strongly established on their last couple LPs. There are a select few tracks with really solid grooves laid down, but the driving force that Monuments previously held seems to be mostly missing here. There is also an assortment of basic or immature lyrical passages scattered about. For example, "Stygian Blue" honestly comes off as a bit juvenile.
There are nonetheless, worthy and redeeming moments. Besides the production nitpicks, opening track "A.W.O.L." kicks some royal ass and is topped off with a decent vocal hook. Also on the list of catchy bangers would be "Ivory" and "Leviathan," which combines Tesseract-like vocal deliveries with rap/deathcore screams. It is debatably one of the few songs on here with the best groove. "Mirror Image" provokes an edgy, radio accessibility alike Nothing More, yet treats the band's stylistic transition quite smoothly.
In the end, there are bits and pieces of typical Monuments music fused together with their new alternative metalcore style and it takes awhile to adjust to, coming from someone used to their prior material. I'm all in favor for genre-fusion and progress, so I'm curious where the band intends to go with this considering they feel on the fence here. Overall, there are some tracks on here that will be a great addition to their live set, but it unfortunately does not top the heights they reached on Gnosis or The Amanuensis. Admittedly, the songs become increasingly more enjoyable with each listen, so give Phronesis multiple tries. I truly appreciate the experimentation and songwriting within this record. However, it could stand for a bit more oomph and pizazz.