Split by Birushanah and Monarch

Release date: June 2, 2017

Summer is finally here, the sun is shining at its brightest, the sunshades miniskirts are out, and what better way is there to pull us back into the comforting embrace of gloom than with a heavy half-hour dose of doom, brought to us by a most interesting split release pairing.

Aside from the different backgrounds reflected in both Birushanah’s noisy, psych-rock infused sound and Monarch’s grave, daemonic sonic incantations, the records’ two tracks are nicely tied together by majestic eastern influences relating back to oriental tradition, a trait most notably reflected in the tracklist and the records’ album cover, a gorgeous artwork evocative of Buddhist imagery.

The record starts with Birushanah’s track, a 15 minute long festival of bright, fuzzy and noisy distortion and traditional Japanese percussions. The Osaka-based band deliver a pummelling, cacophonous track, not unlike the raw and violently unrelenting compositions one would expect from an early Swans-like no-wave band. The extra layer of traditional percussions add a significant amount of “mass” to the track, giving us the impression of standing before a whole parade of monks in the midst of a ceremonial celebration, adding to the distinctly oriental psychedelic touch spearheaded by the vocalist’s screams in the bands’ mother-tongue. As intriguing and exotic as the track may sound, ‘Ransho’ suffers from a somewhat disjointed, stagnant song progression and a dry sound that is lacking in terms of spatial cohesiveness, an important feature for a musical style that relies as much on its raw and unmediated performance than on its ambience. Moreover, the percussions sit awkwardly in the mix, separated from the rest of the instruments, preventing the song from reaching a fully cohesive sound. Thankfully, the last third of the track does pick up with some massive riffs beautifully synced up with the clunky rhythm section.

Ending on a redemptive note, Birushanah’s track is thus followed up by a significantly more somber number, a tenebrous piece no less dark than expected by eager Monarch fans. From ‘Ransho’ to ‘Konton Daggers’, the record’s funeral march leaves its earthly sacred grounds and sets foot in the nether-realms of death. Starting off with Emilie Bresson’s angelic voice echoing in the distance, set against the blunt percussive crashes, the track drags its imposing sonic mass like a casket trailed along the river styx at a grimly slow pace. As you’ve probably guessed by now, the ambience and overall writing of ‘Konton Daggers’ sadly overshadows the first half of the record, the Segway transition from the former to the latter only sharpening the contrast between the two recordings. Monarch confidently stick to their strengths as a funeral doom band, for ‘Konton Daggers’ does not stray off from the band’s usual output.

To their credit, the sound crafted by the band has evidently yet to lose its efficiency and chilling effect; the sonic textures of the long, sustained guitar notes conjure up vivid imagery of barren lands, drawing us in with a dragging pace that leaves our sense desperately hanging, yearning for the next cymbal and snare crash punctuating the heavy, steady drum beat. Taking the bands’ earlier work into consideration, one could have hoped for a more ambitious track from the French drone doom outfit, dexterous as they have firmly established themselves to be in their field of practice.

Overall, this split record is an interesting binding of artists under a promising premise, albeit one that struggles to live up to its worthy potential. From an intriguing yet disjointed first half to a solid but safe second half, the Birushanah / Monarch split is a modest release best reserved for the avid fans of both bands.

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