To begin with, how could a cat like myself, equally obsessed with the fine arts of horror and rock 'n' roll, not be at least a little bit curious about a band named MonstrO? While it's true they're not a horror-themed band, this Atlanta-based quartet has indeed created a monster – by concocting a supernatural brew of old-school psychedelic rock, '70s proto-metal and the best of early '90s Seattle-style rock (I hate the meaningless label "grunge"), then boiling the mixture down to a potent elixir that captures some of that music's greatest cosmic highs, and injecting that into every track of their self-titled debut album, which just hit the streets today. I've been spinning this one quite a bit lately – and loving it – so read on for the complete breakdown!
MonstrO was formed in 2009 by former Bloodsimple bassist Kyle Sanders, who then recruited his former bandmate (and Danzig alumnus) Bevan Davies on drums, Juan Montoya on guitars, and frontman Charlie Suarez to round out the team. From the very beginning, the four agreed they wanted to gather up all of their lifelong rock influences – with Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Queen, Peter Gabriel, Metallica, Jane's Addiction and Soundgarden topping of the list – and create a style that "reminded them of their heroes without blatant imitation."
Yeah, sure, tons of bands like to claim that... but in the case of these ten tracks, somehow the guys actually accomplished this exact goal without sounding like a tribute bar-band, and they've shaped the energy of classic rock from the late '60s through the early '90s in unique and timeless combinations. It's a rare case of lightning in a bottle that took the band only two weeks in the studio to capture (with current Alice in Chains vocalist William Duvall in the role of producer), and the end product is passionate, fat-free and hella fun.
Each song on MonstrO stands up well on its own, but for full-length listening, you could divide the album into two energy levels: heavy, adrenaline-fueled straight rock versus progressive, psychedelic chill-outs. Those energies are mixed and matched, often within the same track, but everything seems to fit. You get your first taste of the hard stuff with the massive opener "Fantasma," which rides in with a gargantuan riff and Suarez's soaring Robert Plant-like wail, ending in a pile-driver low beat that pushes you right up to the edge of the cliff. "Anchors Up!" is a glorious and lightning-fast anthem that makes it a perfect choice for the album's first single (which you can hear below), and the drum-heavy acoustic opening of "Concertina" creates a smooth foundation for the proud blasts of Pete Townsend-style guitar, which eventually give way to a sweeping melodic giant of a song.
Not surprisingly, "Stallone" began as a straight-up Rocky tribute, with plenty of direct references to the movie, but according to Sanders, "it became more about the struggle of life and coming out on top. It's something we all go through, and there's a classic vibe to the song." Not only that, but it also packs one of the album's ballsiest, most gut-punching riffs and a powerful refrain ("Fall through the ropes and it's over"), both of which would probably make Sly proud. The pace slows with the space-rock ballad "Olympia," but the massive, reverb-soaked low guitar chords are no less powerful than any of the heavier tracks on the record. After that, "Solar" will jar you out of your mellow mood with a massive dose of simple, chunky Soundgarden speed-riffage and Eddie Vedder-style vocals soaring elegantly over the top.
The soft, '70s-style ballad "Elizabeth" really showcases Suarez's vocal warmth and smoothness, easing your mind into the strangely dissonant chords and clopping rhythms of "Helios," one of the album's most experimental and ambient tracks, which comes down from its own sonic peak to make way for the pensive ballad "Apollo." That song opens the gate to the album's eight-minute mellow-grooving opus "April," which climaxes in a freestyle bridge solo and deep, powerful stacked guitar chords... and you can hear the influence of Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell in the closing vocals, which literally end the album on a triumphant note.
If any of the classic bands I've referenced in this review have summoned up great memories (in my case, just about all of them), then you're in for a good time with MonstrO's first effort. I can imagine their passion and intensity comes across even stronger onstage, and thankfully we can find out soon, because this month they'll be touring with Kyuss Lives! and The Sword (another band who found an effective way to morph classic psychedelic rock and '90s sludge elements into a potent, ground-pounding beast), and you can hit up MonstrO's official Facebook page for a list of upcoming venues. While you're there, you can also grab the first single "Anchors Up!" for free, but before you go, you can also play that track right here...