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The Crushing Doom of Monte Luna’s Self-Titled Debut

monte luna

Doom metal, at its very core, engages directly with our sense of time. Something about slow tempos evoke one’s own limited time on Earth, or in some cases, human kind’s less than miniscule role in the cosmos. Heady stuff, no doubt. Austin-based duo Monte Luna tackle this head-on with their self-titled debut, constructing songs that stretch time through the use of massive riffs and hypnotic repetition.

The duo — consisting of James Clarke on guitar, bass, and vocals and Phil Hook on drums, FX, and synths — possess ambition in spades. Their first release is a concept album, and many of the tracks range from ten to nearly 18 minutes in length. The scope of the narrative is vast. Monte Luna tell a story from a distant time, of armies on a “6,000 Year March” doing battle with a necromancer while scaling an “Inverted Mountain” and invading a “Nightmare Frontier,” an engagement with a fictional history that defies any conventional conception of time and scale.

The effect of all this is akin to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian breaking the confines of Hyborea and wandering on to the set of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “The Holy Mountain.” Anyone familiar with the latter’s masterpiece of Mesoamerican psychedelic cinema knows the hypnotic power it possesses, the ways in which hallucinatory imagery gives the film a mythic quality.

Monte Luna, like many of their doom and sludge cohorts, use repetition to achieve their trance-inducing ends. But they succeed where so many others fail: they manage to not only capture the listener’s attention with their earth-shattering riffs, but they hold that focus as well. Case in point is the album’s third track, “6,000 Year March.” The opening riff, a simple two-chord progression bathed in waves of feedback, is brought to life by unique and captivating drumming. It’s essentially a doom metal homage to the Godflesh track “Pulp” from their seminal Streetcleaner album. When the immense riff of the next section kicks in, Clarke’s the gritty crooning float above the tectonic waves rolling underneath. Here, as on the other tracks, Monte Luna draw a direct line of influence between both Sleep’s Jerusalem and Isis’s Celestial. References to that opening drum pattern continue to make appearances throughout the track’s 18-minute run time, giving cohesion to the song’s massive totality.

Using these simple tools throughout the album, Monte Luna invoke a sense of powerful minimalism, allowing each track to mutate just enough to keep the narrative moving forward. The aforementioned drumming on “6,000 Year March” possesses a slight marching feel, and “Inverted Mountain” contains a spacious middle session that seems to invoke a descent into the peak of the megalith. Throughout the record, the vocals alternate between well-executed clean singing, and a paint-peeling screech that brings to mind Khanate’s Alan Dubin. Various snippets of sampled movie dialogue help lend the material a cinematic feel, sneaking in and out at various times while waves of noise and synths roll underneath each song’s primary architecture. Occasionally, the drums and guitars slip away, and all that is left are desolate drones and feedback.

The final song of the album, “The End of Beginning,” invokes Black Sabbath’s namesake tune, connecting Monte Luna’s wide-ranging record back to doom’s roots. The whole thing eventually winds down to just a gently strummed guitar before fading out. This is doom metal doing what it does best: invoking a sense of timelessness and vastness on a mythic scale. Monte Luna tell their story not as a narrative arrow plunging forever forward through time, but rather as the vast grinding gears of history in which every beginning is just cycling through until the end again.

—Todd Manning

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