From UK based Prog Metallers, Monuments, “The Amanuensis” comes as the 2nd full length, with a drastic change in the line up in the form of (ex-Periphery, Ever Forthright) frontman Chris Barretto stepping into former vocalist Matt Rose’s shoes. The line up change was met with a lot of mixed reactions with some fans ruling in favour of the somewhat unanimously favoured Rose who departed from the band following internal disagreements, while other fans ruled in favour of Barretto and his skilled voice box citing his chops on the saxophone as a pro. However, the scale has been properly tipped on the right side with the release of “The Amanuensis”.
While “Gnosis”, the debut full length still remains a favourite, more so since I caught the band’s set live on their Indian stint at Wildfire ’13, right before Rose’s departure, but there is a marked difference in Barretto’s delivery that underline the fine print that says the band traded up. Also coming into focus right off the bat is the distinguished work of producer Eyal Levi which has granted enough room for all the instruments to ring out crisp with clarity, with enough left for Barretto.
“The Amanuensis” begins with “I, the Creator”, a track which has been debuted live before the release, and also as a play through before. Though the track is a delight, the real magic starts with the 2nd number “Origin of Escape”. Hard hitting syncopated riffing by Browne and Steele are as always the key story-teller in my opinion. But Barretto’s contribution to the album is not to be trifled with in the least bit. Given his admirable body of work, it comes as no surprise that he shifts from one vocal pattern to the next and to and fro with fluid dexterity. The definitive work with falsettos and alteration between screams and gutturals are just the tip of the trickery ice-berg this dude has up his sleeve. “Atlas” is the track to testify this theory the best; with the most engaging intro and main riff I have heard in ages, the track is nothing short of spectacular with its subtle use of clean leads in parts to accentuate the sound and feel.
“Horcrux” elucidates the application of odd metric riffs that the band has be known to capitalize and revolutionize. With grooves that shouldn’t spare you a moment to lull if you like to head bang to yourself, the band also highlights its maturity in compositions with its sophomore release: Monuments have never been one to go guns blazing at every opportunity, and the band just does that with precision and control, sparing moments for the song to culminate around a fitting bridge section that does justice to the track individually. The tracks “Gardens of Sankhara” and “Quasimodo” are the best examples of this. If variety is what you seek and unconventional elements and approaches on a Metal album are a hidden cookie for you then you should also be in love with “Saga City” and “Samsara”.
Mike Malyan seems to be enjoying a lot of accolades and deservedly so, given how he has pushed the envelope on the record and also on his other project The Algorithm who also have a sophomore full length coming up in the form of “Octopus4”. Malyan has always been a subject of reverence for me because I was long floored by his work behind the kit before discovering that the guy is younger than me and already a hugely talented asset to one of my favourite bands of all time. With “The Amanuensis”, Malyan manages to curb the flamboyance in his playing style and substitutes it with the aforementioned precision and control that seems to be the mantra for the whole band. Adam Swan is also to be largely credited for his outstanding work that simply refused to be just bass lines and started sounding like bass lines that demand your attention with every passing note.
As largely publicized by the band members on their social media, the album borrows its name and theme from the book “Cloud Atlas” and the movie based on it. There are also references to Eastern mythos in parts. I’m not sure if my inference sounds as articulate as I want it to be but the only upper hand “Gnosis” has over “The Amanuensis” at this point is the sheer catchiness, that the former had in spades with tracks like “97% Static”, “Blue Sky Thinking”, “Empty Vessels..” and such, but then again, that upper hand is short-lived in the light of the chiaroscuro of refreshing clean sung vocals and destructive low gutturals by Baretto. The bass lines also gain much prominence with this album, and thus Adam Swan’s parts can often be seen grabbing the spotlight by the jugular, or rather dancing around it in glee. Personal complaints aside, “The Amanuensis” is a beautiful amalgamation of various strains of Metal with a chug based template that should pique your interests regardless of preferences, with its sheer flair for technicality. I am willing to even give the band the benefit of doubt on the catchiness front given that I have only replayed the album a comparatively very few times since I got my reviewer’s copy. Besides, the last few tracks spare enough time for the mosh-friendly headbanger in you to twist the knob a few notches high and break a bone or two over them.
In a sea of DeathDjentCore bands, Monuments are one of the few that set the bar higher for themselves with every release and also set a benchmark for similar music/musicians to be ranked by. If the live performances are anything to define the gradient of improvement the band has undergone, the live rendition of “The Amanuensis” would be an experience to live for, to say the list. “The Amanuensis” is definitely worth your time and money and more.